City Focus: Dallas
A bustling metropolis in north Texas with over 1.3mn inhabitants, Dallas is the third-largest city in the state. The city has a rich and vibrant history: the original home of the global convenience store chain 7-Eleven, an airport larger than the island of Manhattan, and iconic football team the Dallas Cowboys (the team that popularized the modern conception of the cheerleader). Originally an agricultural and American Indian trading hub, Dallas soon evolved into one of the world’s largest inland cotton trading cities in the early 20th century. In subsequent decades, the discovery of crude oil reserves in the surrounding area turned it into a budding boom town and quickly the center of the nation’s oil market.
Manufacturing infrastructure tied to the production of cotton-picking equipment and oil drilling led to the city emerging from World War Two as a leading communications, engineering and production town. The communications revolution, and more recently Industry 4.0, has continued to play a large part in Dallas’ economy to this day. Fortune 500 companies Texas Instruments, AT&T, Exxon Mobil and Jacobs Engineering are among the many technology and industrial leaders that call the city and its surrounding area home.
Continuing the successful tradition of communications, technology and industrial commerce, while also acting for the benefit of its citizens, is Dallas’ vibrant startup scene. We examine three socially conscious Dallas tech companies harnessing the power of the digital age to improve the lives of American citizens.
Founded in 2016 by Chris Brickler and Shawn Wiora, MyndVR is headquartered at the northernmost end of Dallas. Brickler, who served as an executive with Verizon, British Telecom and AT&T over the course of his career, has worked alongside Wiora to create a virtual reality (VR) application targeted at the assisted living demographic.
According to an article by D Magazine, the MyndVR uses 360-degree cameras to capture and bring to life comforting and engaging experiences for assisted living seniors. “We’re teleporting them from their four walls of existence into an unbelievable, fantastic environment,” Brickler told D Magazine. “They get to hear and see it, so they resonate with it in a way that’s so powerful and heartwarming.” One of the company’s VR experiences involved using a live band and actors in 1950’s costume to simulate a Frank Sinatra concert.
Brickler believes that the Dallas startup’s solution can and should be easily applied across the country, and has the power to effect positive change in the lives of people suffering from Alzheimers, Dementia or simply the isolation of old age.
Founded eight years ago and headquartered in the city’s Main Street District, RoboKind specializes in leveraging advanced social robotics in order to support autism therapies and provide instruction to students studying STEM. With the goal of creating cost-effective, inclusive education, RoboKind has worked with the autism spectrum disorder community to create its flagship product, Milo. With life-like facial features and unwavering patience, Milo uses repetition-based techniques to deliver a learning experience to autistic children that is reportedly almost 80% more effective than traditional therapy. RoboKind launched Milo in 2016.
The other main element of RoboKind’s product offering helps to address the future STEM leaders growing up in the city. “Dallas’ workforce of the near future demands different skills than its workforce has today. STEM skills, such as coding and programming, will become more important as the tech industry continues to grow,” writes Jeff Goodman, RoboKind’s manager of sales and operations.
Continuing to pursue its mission to provide inclusive and effective education, the RoboKind team created Robots4STEM, a simple drag and drop programming language designed to give children an early introduction to computer science. Children use the language to enter commands into Jett, a humanoid robot.
Situated on the southwestern side of Dallas, Track15 is a startup looking to change the way people change the world. Co-founded in 2017 by Andrew Snow and Chris Schultz, the company provides back end business development consultancy services to nonprofit organizations. “The lack of business acumen that nonprofits have—that’s what brought us together,” Snow said in an interview with D Magazine. “We believe the relationship between the donor and the mission are what’s important for a sustainable nonprofit model.”
Through close collaborative partnerships and consulting services, Track15 helps its clients streamline their organizations and create more value for the people they work to help. “We take them from zero to 60 very quickly,” added Snow.
Track15 currently counts nonprofits like Mercury One, the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund, the Prison Entrepreneurship Program and the Dallas Film Festival among its clients. The company’s roadmap sees it seeking out larger clients and expanding beyond the Dallas city limits, driven by the idea that: “We want to listen to your story, bond to your uniqueness and commit to providing you with exactly what you need.”
How changing your company's software code can prevent bias
Two-third of tech professionals believe organizations aren’t doing enough to address racial inequality. After all, many companies will just hire a DEI consultant, have a few training sessions and call it a day.
Wanting to take a unique yet impactful approach to DEI, Deltek, the leading global provider of software and solutions for project-based businesses, took a look at and removed all exclusive terminology in their software code. By removing terms such as ‘master’ and ‘blacklist’ from company coding, Deltek is working to ensure that diversity and inclusion are woven into every aspect of their organization.
Business Chief North America talks to Lisa Roberts, Senior Director of HR and Leader of Diversity & Inclusion at Deltek to find out more.
Why should businesses today care about removing company bias within their software code?
We know that words can have a profound impact on people and leave a lasting impression. Many of the words that have been used in a technology environment were created many years ago, and today those words can be harmful to our customers and employees. Businesses should use words that will leave a positive impact and help create a more inclusive culture in their organization
What impact can exclusive terms have on employees?
Exclusive terms can have a significant impact on employees. It starts with the words we use in our job postings to describe the responsibilities in the position and of course, we also see this in our software code and other areas of the business. Exclusive terminology can be hurtful, and even make employees feel unwelcome. That can impact a person’s desire to join the team, stay at a company, or ultimately decide to leave. All of these critical actions impact the bottom line to the organization.
Please explain how Deltek has removed bias terminology from its software code
Deltek’s engineering team has removed biased terminology from our products, as well as from our documentation. The terms we focused on first that were easy to identify include blacklist, whitelist, and master/slave relationships in data architecture. We have also made some progress in removing gendered language, such as changing he and she to they in some documentation, as well as heteronormative language. We see this most commonly in pick lists that ask to identify someone as your husband or wife. The work is not done, but we are proud of how far we’ve come with this exercise!
What steps is Deltek taking to ensure biased terminology doesn’t end up in its code in the future?
What we are doing at Deltek, and what other organizations can do, is to put accountability on employees to recognize when this is happening – if you see something, say something! We also listen to feedback our customers give us and have heard their feedback on this topic. Those are both very reactive things of course, but we are also proactive. We have created guidance that identifies words that are more inclusive and also just good practice for communicating in a way that includes and respects others.
What advice would you give to other HR leaders who are looking to enhance DEI efforts within company technology?
My simple advice is to start with what makes sense to your organization and culture. Doing nothing is worse than doing something. And one of the best places to start is by acknowledging this is not just an HR initiative. Every employee owns the success of D&I efforts, and employees want to help the organization be better. For example, removing bias terminology was an action initiated by our Engineering and Product Strategy teams at Deltek, not HR. You can solicit the voices of employees by asking for feedback in engagement surveys, focus groups, and town halls. We hear great recommendations from employees and take those opportunities to improve.