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Harnessing collective wisdom and efforts: Inside DEI initiatives at

The Fulton-based firm started having in-depth conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion last summer and has continued its long-term commitments.

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Dr. Carmen Phelps’ advice for any company unsure of how to start its diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) journey? Just do it now, because if you don’t, no progress will ever be made, said Phelps, the CEO and lead DEI and racial equity consultant at Project 986 Consulting.

At, the Fulton-based software firm, these conversations began ramping up in June 2020, said Ashley Conway,’s D&I council chair. Since then, the company has developed relationships with outside organizations — Project 986 Consulting and Baltimore Tracks — as part of its goal to integrate DEI efforts into’s everyday workflow for the long term.

Internally, the company formed its first Diversity and Inclusion Council in June 2020 and has since hosted biannual Diversity and Inclusion Town Halls for employees to openly discuss DEI questions. The first council was made up of employees who volunteered to meet for six months. A second council has been organized and will meet for six months as well, Conway said.

Conway said organized company conversations about DEI were a new initiative for, but it paid off and emboldened the firm’s commitment to continue DEI efforts in 2021 and beyond. At the moment, is specifically focused on hiring more candidates from underrepresented groups to grow a diverse team with unique backgrounds and experiences to challenge the status quo.

“Beforehand, I think those discussions just weren’t really in the forefront,” she said. “Seeing people be more open about everything, not just at but in the world, is super important to me.”

A few months into its first Diversity and Inclusion Council, began interviewing consultants, ultimately landing on Phelps of Project 986 Consulting, a racial equity and anti-racism consulting firm. This July, Phelps began an engagement with

Phelps is currently in the “learning and discovery” phase of her work with, assessing where the company can grow and improve. So far, she has established a DEI curriculum for that will help the firm create an organization-wide DEI vision, recruit a racially diverse workforce, foster an inclusive and equitable workplace culture and understand equity as a process.

Dr. Carmen Phelps. (Via

Each company’s DEI needs are different, Phelps said, but she helps her clients make positive progress they can track internally.

“I want them to feel that they have developed or acquired through our work together an increased capacity for doing the work,” she said. “That is to say that the work is going to be hard and challenging and unpredictable and messy no matter what. But if you sit to feel the experience, they feel more capable of doing the work and sustaining the work, despite or even given the challenges.”

But DEI topics aren’t confined to’s council, its monthly meetings or conversations with Phelps. As a remote-first company, Conway said Slack is the team’s main communication touchpoint. To keep questions or comments about DEI flowing, created a #diversitymatters channel on its Slack, and Conway said it’s used every day by the team.

Understanding that some folks may be more hesitant to speak up than others, the first Diversity & Inclusion Council at developed an anonymous feedback box for its members to screen and discuss at their monthly meetings. Conway added that employees were also encouraged to send personal messages about DEI to any member of the council throughout the month.

As became more open about DEI efforts, Conway noticed that employees were more apt to participate in those conversations, and she hopes this trend continues in 2021 as a way “to continue embracing and celebrating our differences.”

Externally, is also looking forward to working with Baltimore Tracks, an organization that brings tech leaders together to foster a more diverse and inclusive tech industry for people of color, with an emphasis on Black residents, in Baltimore. has attended Baltimore Tracks’ monthly meetings of local companies and committed to executing the commitments Baltimore Tracks laid out for its partner members.

Sherrod Davis, a member of Baltimore Tracks’ steering committee, said Baltimore Tracks’ five commitments for companies are:

  1. Measure results of internal DEI efforts and gain a collective picture of diversity in Baltimore’s workforce
  2. Share best practices with other Baltimore companies
  3. Share candidates for jobs (i.e. if a person of color isn’t hired for a job at one company, sharing their information with other members of Baltimore Tracks so they’re immediately prioritized in the hiring process)
  4. Remove four-year degree requirements for jobs
  5. Pay interns is expecting significant employee growth in 2021 and is particularly focused on hiring more people currently underrepresented in tech via Baltimore Tracks, per Conway. Davis said companies focusing on diverse hiring practices like are important.

“We wanted to focus on hiring because technology executives have control over who was hired at their organization and the culture they’re establishing,” said Davis, who is also chief of staff at Protenus, a Fells Point-based healthcare analytics firm. “We talk a lot about spheres of influence, and without reinventing the wheel, we thought that that was something that our members could be influential over.”

Davis added that one company is never going to single handedly change the representation landscape of tech in Baltimore. But it takes collective efforts from companies like that are committed for the long-term.

At, a long-term focus on DEI began with more open dialogue one day and has progressed into a robust internal process.

“Now, we are organized and figuring out how to implement a lot of good ideas,” Conway said. “That’s been a learning process, and I have learned a great deal, but there’s still a lot I think Dr. Phelps and Baltimore Tracks are going to help us solidify to keep this trajectory going and see the success that we want.”

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Companies: Kion / Protenus

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