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Building the Diverse Workforce of the Future, Today (Part 1)

catherine pargeter

Interested in joining the conversation? Join Orchard, Commonbond, Bond Street and LendIt at our Ladies in Fintech (LiFT) event on Thursday, July 27 2017. Event details and RSVP here:


It’s true—and sure, a bit of a cliché at this point—that technology is revolutionizing the financial services industry. Unfortunately, this ‘revolution’ appears to be largely confined to products and services. For all that’s being done to disrupt traditional banking and financial services—creating a new infrastructure and laying the groundwork for the financial products and client experiences of the future—there’s clearly plenty that remains mired in the past.

It’s fascinating to me really. The lack of diversity and inclusion in both the technology and traditional financial services industry is well documented and has been discussed for years—and yes, sadly, is also clichéd. Yet, for all the talk, and all the very ‘smart’ people capable of tackling a range of very difficult problems, you need look no further than the recent headlines to see that there’s been little meaningful movement on the diversity front over the years.


Yes, the problem really is that bad

 I’m a data scientist, but you don’t have to understand advanced statistical methods or demography to understand that the tech community has a problem with diversity. Consider the following:

  • Only 25 percent of tech jobs are held by women. Of those, only 3 percent are held by African Americans and just 1 percent by Latinas.
  • 88 percent of IT patents (from 1980 to 2010) were invented by male-only invention teams.
  • 83 percent of tech executives are Caucasian.
  • At the biggest tech companies, just 5 percent of workers are Hispanic, 4 percent are Black and 16 percent are Asian.

 This lack of diversity can result in deep running problems. Studies confirm that homogenous workforces can lead to a reduction in worker productivity and feelings of isolation. A lack of diversity may also hit a company’s bottom line. Research by McKinsey & Company reveals that companies in the bottom quarter for gender, racial, and ethnic diversity are much less likely to achieve above-average returns.

Even worse, a lack of diversity can lead to a culture more prone to insensitivity, and that may increase an organization’s headline risk. For startups that tout themselves as models for how companies should operate, this can negatively influence share prices and future valuations as well as hurt their ability to recruit top talent.

 On the flip side, improving a company’s diversity may also improve bottom-line results. McKinsey’s research (cited above) indicates highly gender-diverse companies are 15 percent more likely to outperform their peers in financial returns. Businesses in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to outperform their competitors.


Gender parity: our point of departure

Before joining Orchard, I worked as an analyst for a socially responsible investing firm, focused on incorporating public companies’ environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria into our analyses. Diversityincluding but not limited to gender diversitywas one of the factors that we analyzed at the individual, executive, and board levels. It was at the forefront of the work we were doing, and I carry that dedication with me wherever I work.

Obviously, gender diversity is somewhat easier to spot because you can look around and count, whereas most other things aren’t quite as obvious as that. During my interview process at Orchard, I remember being impressed that of my five initial interviewers, two of them were women with senior roles at the firm. By contrast, most of the interviewers at the other organizations I was exploring were male.  

At Orchard, I found co-workers who also recognized the importance and were willing to work on crafting and implementing policies to document our commitment to building a diverse company with a culture of inclusion.

Orchard embraces many hallmarks of startup culture—hoodies, craft beers, ample vacation time, autonomy—but when it comes to building our workforce, the company is charting its own diverse path. We want to share these ongoing efforts with you via our blog!

 Our initial area of focus is improving gender disparity. Currently, 25 percent of Orchard’s total staff are women. That’s a good start but far from our ideal. To boost our female ranks, we’re partnering with Women 2.0, a for-profit, for-good company that’s working to close the gender gap in tech. Soon Orchard hopes to team up with other organizations, including Tech Ladies, to improve recruitment efforts even more.

 We’ve taken a close look at our hiring process and optimized with an eye towards improving gender parity. For example, in an effort to reduce implicit bias, every interview team includes both men and women. On my team specifically, I encourage interviewers to ask the same questions in the same order as this has been shown to help counteract against implicit biases in interviews.

 For employees, Orchard champions several initiatives geared towards building a strong, gender-aware community, including a “Ladies of Orchard” Slack channel where all employees share relevant articles, events, and resources related to women in the workplace, fintech, and the tech industry. A recent installment of the “Influential Speaker Series,” an initiative created to support career development at Orchard, featured Lesley Goldwasser, Managing Director at independent investment banking firm GreensLedge, who addressed the challenges she faced as a young woman establishing her career on Wall Street. I also lead a women’s book club at the company that recently discussed  The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman as its first selection, which was followed up by Own It by Sallie Krawcheck.

 Any working parent knows the struggle of juggling career and family. In the U.S., this stress is even greater since only 13 percent of workers receive paid family leave. To create family-friendly policies—a great way to attract and retain senior female talent in particular—Orchard aims to make things easier for employees with children, offering 16 weeks of paid parental leave to women and men—for birth, adoption, or foster care. Before having an established a family leave policy, Orchard’s CEO, Matt Burton, worked with our head of marketing, Nadia Gonzalez, who was then expecting her first child. They agreed that after 12 weeks, a new mother is still recovering from a major life event and hasn’t slept much—not an optimal time to return to work full-time. And it’s not just talk either; Men and women across the company have taken advantage of this leave, which helps encourage others to do so as well. You hear stories of companies that have generous leave policies that no one is allowed to actually take. Here, even our co-founder and Chief Analytics Officer, David Snitkof, took time off when his first child was born earlier this year. As I head towards my due date in mid-October, it’s reassuring to know that taking real time off won’t be shunned.  


Race, ethnicity & life experiences

 Of course, gender parity is only one aspect of a diverse workforce. At Orchard, we want to attract employees with a range of geographical, socioeconomic, racial, religious, and other life experiences and backgrounds.

 To do this, we post job openings on traditional boards like Glassdoor, LinkedIn, and AngelList, but we are also partnering with lesser known—but equally important—platforms to expand our reach: Blacks in Technology (African Americans and Latinos), Tech Yes! (those with diverse and minority backgrounds), and Out in Tech (LGBTQ+). We hope to partner with Jopwell (African Americans, Native Americans, Latinos) in the future, too.

 Visa sponsorship can be daunting for a startup, but we’ve decided to make this a top priority. Currently, about 9 percent of Orchard employees hold visas, and we have already sponsored J1, F1, H1B, and TN-1 visas.

 We’re also working hard to ensure that a welcoming environment meets every Orchard employee. Catered meetings and other team events offer a wide range of meal offerings for those observing dietary restrictions, whether for religious or personal beliefs. As a gluten-free, mostly vegetarian, I appreciate this more than others might.  When we socialize, we try to offer a wide range of activities—from sports and trivia to interactive games—to ensure a culture of inclusion and whole-team involvement.


There’s a new type of startup in town

 Fintech and the tech industry at large has a diversity problem. But that doesn’t mean every tech company does—or that we can’t improve matters one company at a time.

 Probably the most significant effort we’re making here at Orchard is a willingness to learn and change. We talk about these issues actively, and every employee feels a sense of ownership in these matters. We read and share new research and best practices. We won’t ever have all the answers, but we’re committed to learning and iterating our way towards a workplace that includes employees from all walks of life.