Without the pandemic arriving in 2020, DivySci Co-Founder and CEO Ariana Abramson may never have begun her startup at all. It was a time of unique innovation for many founders who saw themselves in new situations and thinking about modern problems in different ways.
For Abramson, 2020 was the year she lost her fulltime job, like so many others across the country. Initially upon being laid off, she had no idea what she would do next. But sometimes there’s power in the possibilities.
“I leaned into that and was able to, from sharing my experiences in education and in corporate spaces as a woman of color in STEM, that’s when I actually started to have those dialogues with other people of color and we actually started the company,” Abramson said.
DivySci is a Durham-based startup that seeks to eliminate biases and microaggressions by integrating into workplace communication platforms. The goal is to foster a stronger and more diverse workplace culture and greater innovation. DivySci was also one of 15 startups that received a $10,000 MICRO grant this April from NC IDEA.
Abramson’s own experiences within the workplace fueled her vision for a business that could eliminate the bias and microaggressions she faced.
She said she was raised by a Puerto Rican mother who taught her to “be boundless, to create and to ask a thousand whys.” This cultivated a sense of responsibility to make the world a better place, Abramson said.
“However, when I was faced with experiences of microaggressions and biases at school and at work, I was not prepared for them,” Abramson said.
Abramson was the first woman in her family to study STEM and was often the only woman of color in her computer science classes as an undergrad at New York’s Pace University and then as a Masters of Science student at Columbia. Once she started working within tech startups, it could be challenging to feel heard and seen at meetings, and managers would sometimes question her emotional state.
The systemic bias and exclusion Abramson said she faced was not unique to her. In fact, she says that based on research, more than half of employees in the IT industry experienced increased communication bias and harm in the workplace since Covid-19.
By using AI, DivySci is building a new model that shifts the way we leverage language and verbal cues to build equitable experiences in the workplace and within team interactions, Abramson said.
Integration with communication apps
As a B2B subscription, DivySci integrates into team communication platforms like Zoom and Slack and collects verbal and written interactions with the teams. After collecting the data, DivySci is essentially a tool to evaluate how each company can reach goals for organizational inclusivity and equity in the communication channels.
The pilot will launch this fall, and DivySci encourages interested companies to sign up for the program on their website. So far, the focus has been on serving high tech companies with a virtual-first workforce and at least 100 employees.
In addition to the NC IDEA MICRO grant, DivySci is backed by New Orleans-based Camelback Ventures and the nonprofit Black Girl Ventures. The support from NC IDEA pushes DivySci to create a wider impact in the community, Abramson said.
“As we’re building this product and this company, we are looking to find spaces and organization partners that understand the value of what we’re talking about, understand our vision to deconstruct systems of racism, bias and exclusion within various industries in the US,” Abramson said. “So having an organization like NC IDEA that believes in our vision and is putting resources behind us is super-exciting, and really allows us to think bigger.”
Originally when Abramson founded the company in 2020, she wasn’t sure exactly how to tackle the issue of bias in the workplace. She just knew that something needed to change. The pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement were making headlines across the country as companies faced their own reckonings on inclusivity in the workplace.
“We were very intentional about making sure that if we do build a company looking to address this issue, that we first make sure that we talk to the people that have been most impacted and directly targeted by these systems that feel exclusionary when they’re trying to be in this space of innovation,” Abramson said.
DivySci is part of a larger movement around not just the tech industry but elevating voices to begin dismantling societal structures that were not built for everyone to thrive, Abramson said.
As the startup looks to the next half of 2022, they are focused on product development and launching with their first few customers.
“Our goal is to empower organizations and their employees to realize their full potential by removing the blinders of bias,” Abramson said. “We qualify that by saying that we want to make sure that everyone is seen and heard at the table. And not just being at the table, but how can you be equitably seen? How are you equitably heard?”