October 2020 was the last time we gave an update on the diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging initiatives at Rhino. Looking back, that feels like an entirely different world. We used to be a team of about 80 people—mostly based in New York City—in the early stages of understanding what it meant to support diversity at an organizational level. That exploration made us realize we had an incredible amount of work to do, so we made a plan to do it

Then things got kind of crazy. Our team grew from 80 to 223 people in our largest onboarding period to date. We transitioned to remote work, then hybrid work, all while figuring out what it meant to grow sustainably by maintaining company culture, retaining employees, and setting everyone at Rhino up for personal and professional success. When your team scales and changes so dramatically, your efforts to make people of all backgrounds feel like they belong have to scale and change too.

This growth period quickly taught us that some of last year’s DEIB initiatives were primed to scale well, and others weren’t. This article will touch on how our plans from last year turned out, as well as the considerations we took in developing our programming for our new size. It will also outline why belonging has become a central point of everything we do at Rhino. We see nurturing a sense of belonging in our organization as a way to complement the core values that inform how we grow our company culture overall.

Reflecting on our DEIB initiatives from the last year

Our 2020 DEIB plans were ambitious and not all of them were successful, but now we better understand the types of initiatives our team needs. The list you see below is made up of some of our highest priority initiatives for late 2020/early 2021. Both the goals we achieved and the plans that didn’t come to fruition laid the foundation for how we’ll develop DEIB initiatives going forward.

2020 initiatives that worked:
  • Incentivizing referrals that create diversity on our team

  • Providing resources and education programming around the history of racism in our industry, multifamily housing

  • Matching employee contributions to change-making organizations

  • Monthly convening of members of our team to hear feedback related to identity-based experiences at work 

  • Opt-in Slack channels solely dedicated to inclusivity in the workplace

  • Full audit of hiring practices + hiring-specific implicit bias training

2020 initiatives that fell short:
  • Professionally led team-wide implicit bias training

  • Providing opportunities to volunteer and get involved outside of Rhino-related work

  • Employee led ‘Courageous Conversations’ anti-racism workshops

  • 1:1 workplace accountability partners

Image with white background on the right side and yellow background on the left side. Black text on the right side with the phrases: "Incentivizing referrals," "Providing resources and education," "Matching employee donations," "Monthly convening of team members," "Slack channels dedicated to inclusion," and "Full audit of hiring practices + training." White text against yellow background on the left side reads "2020 initiatives that worked" Image with white background on the right side and red background on the left side. Black text on the right side with the phrases: "Professionally led team-wide bias training," "Providing opportunities to volunteer," "Employee led anti-racism workshops," and "1:1 workplace accountability partners"  White text against red background on the left side reads "2020 initiatives that fell short."

The success and failure of certain initiatives was a direct result of our organization dealing with rapid growth. We had to prioritize initiatives that experienced more immediate success. We figured out what initiatives to prioritize by using feedback loops that were extremely tight; sometimes the best thing you can do when an initiative stalls is to regroup and do something better. We paid close attention to what was providing the most value for our people based on both direct feedback and observational data, and made intentional decisions with these insights in mind.  

With this being said, we knew that empowering our team members to take ownership of this work track was also an important factor in making our DEIB efforts successful. In order to do that, we gave our DEIB work it’s own OKR to define a centralized strategy as well as establish key owners of different parts of the work. More on this in just a bit.

More people, more personalities, and more preferences

Something else our growth period taught us is that DEIB initiatives must be customized to our employee population. That means we need to understand who our employees are and how our demographics have changed as we’ve scaled. Drilling deeper into this data helps us tailor initiatives for the purpose of maximizing employee participation. 

 The data below was self-reported by Rhino employees through a series of anonymous surveys and is a representative sample of our team. In October 2020, just 60% of our 78 team members disclosed their demographic information. In August 2021, that number increased to 80% of our 223 team members.

Two pie charts against a white background with the title "October 2020." Pie chart on the left shows a demographic breakdown that Two pie charts against a white background with the title "August 2021." Pie chart on the left shows a demographic breakdown that

A few encouraging insights jumped out at us when our internal People Team sat down to compare these two datasets:

  • The response percentage to this company-wide demographic survey increased from 60% in 2020 to 80% in 2021. This came as a result of a concerted effort by our People Team to let our employees know their responses would be key to ensuring our DEIB programming could be inclusive of every Rhino employee.

  • We saw an increase of women on our team from 41.5% in 2020 to 52% in 2021

  • We saw an increase in people who identify as non-binary from 1% in 2020 to 4% in 2021

On the flipside, we felt discouraged by some of the results as well:

  • We saw a decrease in Black employees from 9% in 2020 to 8% in 2021

  • We saw a decrease in Latinx employees from 8% in 2021 to 6% in 2021

  • We saw a decrease in Asian employees from 21.5% in 2020 to 18% in 2021

Because our team is so much larger we have still been able to increase representation significantly, but we have more work to do to increase proportional representation at Rhino, a consideration that will influence our hiring and employee development programming going forward. We also expanded our identifiers for our most recent survey in comparison to our first one, which could also have been a factor in these percent decreases. 

Our goal is to have as a baseline a Rhino population that at the very least reflects the demographic realities of the country we operate within. By percentage, we’re behind the demographic baseline for Black Americans by 5% and Latinx Americans by 12%, something we’re committed to addressing in our hiring practices going forward. After we hire people, the next step is making everyone at Rhino feel like they belong here. 

‘Belonging’ is central to our 2021/2022 plans 

Our People Team was first exposed to the idea of “belonging” as a part of DEI work by an external consultant who worked closely with our team to plan our 2021 initiatives. 

‘Belonging’ was presented to us as the sum of Diversity (people of different backgrounds sharing an environment)+Equity (every member of the Rhino community getting what they need)+Inclusion (visible actions to include every employee in work and recreational activities). Employees should feel a sense of belonging at their workplace if all of these factors are at play. A sense of belonging supersedes job title, location, or tenure.

And just like that, DEI became DEIB

Image with white background on the right side and purple background on the left side. Black text on the right side with the phrases: "Develop and create our DEIB

When people feel like they belong, it ripples throughout an organization and inspires teams to contribute to company culture. It impacts how we recruit, retain, and grow together, and can be used as a commonality to mobilize junior and senior leaders towards the same goals. 

In creating our plans for the remainder of this year and the beginning of next, we tried to synthesize our learnings from our 2020 initiatives and the demographic data. Creating a sense of belonging was our primary goal and metric of success. As a result, we paid special attention to how working groups could be formed to make more members of our team feel like they have a stake in these initiatives. The more Rhinos engaged with DEIB work, the better. Here are our plans for the future of DEIB at Rhino:

1. Develop and create our DEIB “why” statements

One of the missing elements in our 2020 initiatives was a single mission/vision statement we could refer back to as we continued to build DEIB into the day-to-day structure of Rhino. Over the past couple months, we’ve refined a set of simple statements that will ground every DEIB initiative we create at Rhino going forward:

  • We envision a culture where Rhinos are celebrated for our unique identities and valued for our distinctive lived experiences. That culture makes us feel safe to show up as our fullest selves.

  • We want to build a team that encourages behaviors that make everyone feel welcomed, valued and seen. We see inclusion as who we are —not just what we do—as we encourage curiosity, authenticity, respect, and empathy.

  • We are eager to provide resources that celebrate who we are while also providing education and awareness for allies. Interacting with these resources as a group helps us create safe spaces for healing. 

  • We envision employee resource groups (ERGs) as a resource Rhinos can leverage to have business impact and leverage networking and career development opportunities.

  • We are cognizant that challenging our assumptions and becoming more self-aware through this deep work will take humility.  

  • We won’t always get it right, but we are determined to keep learning. Understanding that we need each other, we are here for the journey and hope you are too.

2. Establish a DEIB Council

To scale our diversity, equity, and inclusion work in 2021, we assembled a fixed set of employee-leaders to create standards and goals for Employee Resource Groups and other DEIB initiatives. These Rhino team members make up a representative sample of our organization in terms of background, identity, and level. We had almost 20 team members volunteer, and ended up with a strong group of 10 employees for our inaugural DEIB council.

3. Transition informal affinity groups to formal ERGs

Over the past few months, we’ve used Slack to organize and house our affinity groups. We’ve created private slack communities for different groups of Rhinos, including Black Rhinos, LGBTQIA+ Rhinos, Woman Rhinos, and Asian-American Rhinos. We’re also expanding these groups and allowing our team members to establish new affinity groups whenever they see fit. 

Our next step is to source leadership from these channels for employee resource groups. Employee resource groups exist to provide support, help with personal or career development, and to create a safe space for employees. Allies will be welcomed to join ERGs to support their colleagues but we are also taking steps to ensure these employee communities create a safe space for people who identify as members to interact and share privately with one another. At Rhino, ERG’s will be matched with an executive team sponsor and tasked with contributing to organizational accountability and providing perspective on larger business decisions both internally and externally.

4. Continue building comprehensive DEIB datasets

Surveys, surveys, and more surveys. We’ve created a culture at Rhino where our employees know they can be vocal about what they want and need from the organization. We want to make sure to keep that line of communication open, especially in the context of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging work. Data from our people will be the only way for us to know if these initiatives are working, and will be crucial to how we define our success metrics as we grow. We plan to combine empirical data and anecdotal feedback to get the richest understanding of what’s working and what’s not.

5. Reinforce core company values and inclusive behaviors

Inclusion is based on actions. By making sure our core company values are consistent with DEIB, we can guide the everyday actions of our team to be consistent with what we’re building in our DEIB efforts. 

In the coming months, we’ll be auditing our internal policies and programs as well as collaborating with our leadership to build a journey map for all of our employees. We want to help employees understand how to put our company values in action through inclusivity. For more information about our values, check out our careers page

Our investment in DEIB is a business goal 

We’re doing this work for two reasons:

  1. Because it’s the right thing to do for our culture and our employees

  2. Because focusing on DEIB is also good for business

These two reasons prompted us to understand the steps we needed to take to ensure this work would be successful. We decided the step we needed to take was to formally recognize DEIB as one of our business goals, similar to our goals of increasing revenue month over month, diversifying our insurance relationships, and collaborating with public policymakers. 

We did that in two ways. First we made our DEIB strategy into one of our OKRs, cementing it as a high-level priority at Rhino similar to our goals of increasing revenue month over month, diversifying our insurance relationships, and collaborating with public policymakers.   

We also hired people who would work directly on this OKR. Juls Fleury joined our team as VP of People operations in March, with over 14 years of experience driving DEIB and People Operations work at Bonobos and Wunderkind. When pregnant with her first child, Juls wrote the entire parental leave policy for the organization she was a part of at the time. We think that’s pretty badass. We also hired Roberto Martinez in June, bringing his own 9 years of experience at Bonobos, Walmart, and Elephant. In just three months, Roberto recruited members and launched the Rhino DEIB council while making great strides in reimagining some of our retention strategies that contribute specifically to a sense of belonging.

Pullquote in black text against a white background that reads: "We’re balancing a few different things at Rhino: hiring talent through periods of high growth, developing people and teams, and ensuring that the environment is culturally rich and inclusive. We want people to be excited to come to work as their authentic selves." Pullquote in black text against a white background that reads: "We’re working hard to create a culture where people feel like they belong, and subsequently want to stay and grow here. We believe that when we foster and support diversity we add tangible value to our organization and set ourselves up for long-term success and growth."

We’re taking this work seriously because that’s what our people deserve. We’re excited to report back (we won’t wait a year this time) and continue building the future of Rhino’s culture through the lens of ‘belonging.’

Larenz Brown

Larenz Brown is a copywriter at Rhino who wants to tell stories that empower people. He once engaged in a 365-day staredown with a security deposit and emerged victorious.