Bright Side of Business: QuakeLab’s rigorous approach takes diversity and inclusion beyond the pizza party

Sharon Nyangweso grew up in a family of entrepreneurs, so it’s no surprise that she’s now a business owner herself. It would be surprising to learn, though, that before founding her inclusion agency QuakeLab, Nyangweso shied away from entrepreneurship altogether.

“For me, going into the world of work from the beginning, I was like, ‘I want a nice job with nice pay that comes every two weeks,’” she says.

But fate had other ideas. By 2019, Nyangweso had officially incorporated QuakeLab.

Long before it was a business, QuakeLab was Nyangweso’s way of taking a structured, strategic approach to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). The idea came to her after seeing DEI work rooted in the idea that solving inequality meant focusing on the individual behaviors of people in an organization.

“That just always felt wrong to me,” she says.

Nyangweso explains that an organization cannot solve structural problems with behavioral solutions such as anti-racism training or lunch parties where people bring cultural foods. Instead, she says, organizations have to be specific about their issues and take concrete action – for example, figuring out if there’s a pay gap between people of color and white employees.

Rigorous audit

“You can’t pizza-party that away,” she says.

When QuakeLab works with a client, Nyangweso and her team first do a rigorous audit of all of a company’s policies and documents across finance, communications, accounting, HR and more. The process takes anywhere from three to six months.

From there, QuakeLab sends out a survey with two different kinds of questions: one set focuses on demographic data and the other focuses on equity patterns such as employee pay, whether an individual has a visible or invisible disability, and how much parental leave they take .

“We’re able to cross-reference questions with the demographics, so that we start seeing what significant patterns of inequity are beginning to emerge,” Nyangweso says.

QuakeLab’s client list now includes community health centers across Ottawa, the City of Ottawa, Amnesty International and the Red Cross. Recently, her agency worked with the City of Toronto to lead the community consultation process for renaming Dundas Street. It also worked with the Western Quebec School Board to collect information from select schools, exploring if there were any patterns emerging based on identity – for example, if Black and Indigenous children get disciplined more than other kids.

“I’d say that was probably one of the most meaningful pieces of work that I’ve done in my career,” Nyangweso says.

It’s the kind of work that got Nyangweso recognized as one of The Globe and Mail’s 50 Changemakers, celebrating business leaders who are tackling some of the world’s biggest problems.

Another way QuakeLab creates a positive impact is by redistributing a portion of its profits to various communities. Nyangweso explains that this isn’t corporate social responsibility or donations – the agency doesn’t require a tax receipt. Instead, it directly supports grassroots organizations like land and water defenders.

“We don’t think of this as giving back to the community,” Nyangweso says. “We think about it as our responsibility to a community that is supporting us.”

The Bright Side of Business is an editorial feature focused on sharing positive stories of business success.

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