Doubling Down on Culture and Values: Flatiron School’s Response to the BLM Movement

Startups & Society Initiative
4 min readJun 14, 2021
Pooja Agarwal, Chief Operating Officer at Flatiron School

Flatiron School is a Manhattan-based global institution that teaches students in-demand tech skills such as software engineering, data science, cybersecurity, and product design. Since their founding in 2012, the leadership at the Flatiron School has been committed to fostering an internal and external culture focused on equity, access, and inclusion¹. Externally, they have launched several fellowships and scholarship programs to diversify their pipeline of students. Internally, diversity and a focus on fostering an inclusive company culture have always been a pillar of their operations.

Given the critical attention and focus that was already given to fostering a diverse and inclusive culture — Flatiron School would have those values and culture tested when the BLM protesting began after the tragic murder of George Floyd.

Strengthening Core Values

In our conversations with Pooja Agarwal, the Chief Operating Officer at the Flatiron School, she highlighted the need to drive with culture and core values to not only guide decision-making and drive results; but also help navigate leadership and staff through moments of crisis.

Immediate Response

Despite having a preexisting culture that created space for diverse perspectives and ideas, after the George Floyd protests broke out, the leadership team at Flatiron School still felt like their initial responses were still mostly reactive.

Following the BLM protest, Flatiron School carried out the following:

  • Provided safe spaces for staff and students to engage: Flatiron organized listening circles and “Feelings Friday” to provide a safe space for staff and students to process what they were feeling and going through. They also implemented “Blackout Tuesday” when Flatiron School paused business operations in an effort to acknowledge and hold space for the pain and reflection many members of the community were feeling in light of current events. They also implemented an employer-paid work-life employee assistance program designed to support employees on an ongoing basis.
  • Launched a DEI Taskforce: As a result of conversations and reactions to the events, staff and leadership decided to double down on their DEI strategy approach and made a commitment to make it an explicit business pillar. This led to the creation of a DEI Taskforce led by volunteers from the Flatiron School as well as the staff and leadership team, workers, and staff.
  • Implemented a new company value: Through the office-wide conversations that immediately preceded the protests, leadership and staff came up with a new company value — “Nurture differences”
  • Launched a fellowship program to support black tech professionals: Within 45 days of the George Floyd protests, Flatiron School announced the creation of the John Stanley Ford Fellowship, to support the advancement of Black tech professionals through the creation of apprenticeships that provide on-the-job training, ongoing mentorship, and access and opportunities to the tech community and scholarships to Flatiron School programs.

Long term response

For the Flatiron School, the protests of 2020 provided awareness and an opportunity for them to reevaluate what more they could be doing to deepen and operationalize the values that were already at the heart of the institution. Given their immediate responses and the feedback from staff and students, they knew that they would have to embark on a longer goal of integrating these values into every aspect of their institutions. In the long term they committed to:

  • Continuously execute against new core value: this builds off their idea that it’s not enough to just have it be a value for the company, you have to build it into the DNA of how a company operates on a day to day basis as well as in the long- term strategy.
  • Setting a budget to cover all costs to do the work holistically: Flatiron School knew that the work that needed to be done would be a long term endeavor that would need to be resourced sufficiently in order to ensure that they would be integrating company values into every aspect of the business process and operation.
  • Engaging outside experts and consultants: In our interview, Pooja mentioned that they quickly realized that they couldn’t do it alone. If they were going to do the hard work of developing DEI metrics, setting clear and actionable goals, and integrating their new value of “nurture differences” into their strategies and operations, they would need to engage outside experts.

At the end of the day, Pooja mentioned that for the Flatiron School this is a journey. Even as the George Floyd protests have subsided, staff and leadership are committing to continue exploring how to bake these values into their entity on a continuous basis.

  2. Disclaimer: Lyel Resner, who helped launch SSI, was affiliated with Flatiron School from 2014–2016. He no longer holds any formal or financial relationship with the Flatiron School.



Startups & Society Initiative

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