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Leading by Listening – Vivint on DEI

October 21, 2021

Many people know Vivint as the innovative smart home technology company that helps over 1.5 million North Americans protect their homes and their families. We sat down with Starr Fowler, SVP of Human Resources, and Kimberly Wittman, VP Talent Acquisition and HR Business Partner at Vivint, to learn how they are also creating a safe and supportive environment for their employees through a deep commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

 

Company Background

Headquartered in Provo, Utah, Vivint employs between 11-13,000 people in North America, depending on the season, with about 60% of their workforce here in Utah. In addition to corporate functions such as engineering, sales, and marketing, Vivint employs thousands of service center employees and field technicians throughout the U.S. and Canada.

 

Why is DEI Important to Vivint?

Fowler explains, “DEI is important or Vivint because it’s the right thing to do for our people, but also because it’s the right thing to do for our business. Our customers may be anybody in U.S. and Canada. We need to understand who they are and what their needs are. Our customers’ homes can be in downtown Detroit, New York City, or here in Daybreak, Utah. We need to employ a population that knows how to communicate with our customers and service their individual needs, no matter where they live or what their home looks like.

“A customer’s needs and concerns can vary quite broadly. In some instances those differences are based on where our customers live and in other instances it may be based on who spends the most time in the home. As a real-life example, several years ago we hired a female product manager in charge of locks. One of the big issues we had was that when the battery in a lock dies, customers often needed help changing it. We’d try to troubleshoot over phone, but customers would want us to come in person. It could get very expensive. 

“This female product manager reexamined the problem. She thought, ‘Who in the home tends to be the individual taking care of all the maintenance? The female. We know she’s busy, and she’s going to want to take care of it quickly and with whatever she has at her disposal, so how can we make it as easy and intuitive as possible so she can check it off her list?’

“She redesigned the lock and the battery changing process, saving our customers a lot of headache and saving Vivint a lot of money. Diversity won the day – we needed that female perspective.”

How Does Vivint Find and Retain Diverse Talent?

Fowler continues, “After the why, it’s the how – building the infrastructure to attract people with diverse backgrounds. That’s where we’ve spent the majority of our time with DEI over the past several years.

“We wanted to understand the things that were precluding us from hiring diverse talent. We wanted to hire more women, so many years ago we started by building a competitive parental leave program. We offer 12 weeks of paid leave for the individual giving birth, and two weeks for the partner, as well as adoption leave for all employees. 

“We’ve also launched Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). We started with two – focused on women and on veterans, then added Vivint Pride, and most recently launched a group for ethnically diverse employees.”

Wittman adds, “The goal of our ERGs is to not only help us recruit more diverse talent but to also facilitate a work environment that will allow diverse talent to thrive. We’ve found that a really important part of the success of our ERGs is executive sponsorship. Our executives show visible support, offer a direct feedback channel, remove barriers, and provide funding as necessary.

“Kim is one of the leaders of our Vivint Women ERG, and she’s very involved with Utah’s Women Tech Council. I personally participate in Vivint Pride,” adds Fowler.

She continues, “In addition to ERGs, networks are really, really important. It’s hard to drive diversity unless you encourage your executives to broaden the network of people they interact with. We hire a lot through referrals – up to 30% – so if our employees are only attached to a network that looks very much like them, whether that is a particular local university or alumni of other prominent Utah tech firms, it becomes really hard to hire diverse talent."

Wittman adds, “We understand the challenge. It’s easier to hire people you already know. So we’re focused on educating leadership on how to build their networks to be more diverse. We also require accountability in hiring. For example, managers of our technical teams are required to do a full write up on everything they did to reach out to diverse candidates before they make an offer.”

“The good news is diversity begets diversity,” says Fowler. “Once you successfully hire a diverse candidate, they often serve as a conduit for additional diverse hires given their diverse and expanded network they bring to the table. There’s a great snowball effect.”

 

On Supporting Diverse Talent in Utah

“Tech is competitive, and retention of talent is hard – regardless of your candidate’s background,” explains Fowler. “But with diverse talent, we strive to be even more intentional about making sure people know their viewpoints and experiences are valued at Vivint. Unconscious bias training is important, but it really comes down to developing the expectation that “we win together” – it’s part of Vivint’s corporate values. We train our managers to draw out individual opinions and work to bring them together to build an environment that values inclusivity.”

Wittman continues, “Recruiting in state is different than recruiting out of state. When we bring in an out-of-state candidate, we pair them with a “buddy” to help them decide where to live, where to go to school, where to shop and eat. That process has created comradery and built friendships.”

 

Leading by Listening

Fowler explains that hosting “listening sessions” – facilitated open forums with employees from diverse backgrounds and executive leadership – has been one of the keys to building a culture of inclusion and support.

“It’s quite easy for leaders to assume, ‘Hey, we’re doing the right things for our diverse employees,’ but to really understand the pain points you have to listen. Case in point – we send trade reps and technicians into hundreds of thousands of homes every year. We learned in our listening sessions that we occasionally get a customer who says, ‘Well, I only want a white technician to come into my home.’ We took that very seriously, and we made a policy that in those situations we will walk away from that customer. We simply won’t put our reps in that position.  

“We’ve also had technicians of color in neighborhoods that are predominately white get pulled over and held in jail through no fault of their own. We have a hotline that our people can call if that ever happens to them. We will be there to support them immediately.

“The bottom line is, unless you really know the things that your employees are facing – either internally or from your customers – you can’t take the next step in your evolution. We’re proud of the progress we’ve made – and the trust we’ve built with our employees – by identifying these challenges and putting better policies in place.”

 

DEI in the Community

“Part of being an employer who values DEI is putting your money where your mouth is,” explains Fowler. “On our Vivint Women’s side, we work hard to encourage the next generation of employees to want a career in technology.

“We recognized there wasn’t enough being done in Utah schools to teach our kids – especially girls – about technology. So we allocated resources and launched our Girls Go Digital camp to invite the daughters of our employees to explore technology over the summer. The girls learn about coding, developing vlogs, basic technology skillsets. The camps are free and are so popular with employees and their children that they book up in 15 minutes from when we release them.

“It’s exciting to see the spark ignite in a child’s mind –particularly in young women’s minds – that you could be a coder, you could develop video games, you could work on robots – there are lots of careers out there beyond doctor, lawyer, teacher.”

Wittman expands, “We had so much success with Girls Go Digital that people wanted their boys to be able to attend too. So we moved to Code Changers, which is co-ed, and expanded the program to include all of our employees’ children.” 

Fowler adds, “And this year, we ran it virtually, which allowed us to extend the program outside of Utah to our field employees’ children, and also into communities of underrepresented students outside of Vivint families, through our relationship with the Jazz Foundation.”

Wittman sums it up, “It’s honestly one of the best retention tools we have – our employees love it, it connects families to Vivint, and helps build the future of STEM in Utah.”

 

For more information, visit Vivint.com

 

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