Jila Javdani isn’t just a powerhouse in the local business world. She’s also an architect of workplace change. Javdani, one of the longtime general managers of the Seattle-based purpose-driven consulting firm, Slalom, was recently named a distinguished female leader by Great Place to Work For All.
Javdani has been at Slalom for over a decade. One of the main ways she has endeavored to create a positive work environment for her employees is to combat issues of inequality through the firm’s Inclusion and Diversity Program.
Slalom’s Inclusion and Diversity Program
“We purposefully called it ‘Inclusion and Diversity,’ not ‘Diversity and Inclusion,’” Javdani said. “We feel very strongly that diversity for diversity’s sake is not effective for everybody. The real benefit for everybody involved is making that diversity work.”
Within the larger structure of the program, which focuses heavily on helping employees to learn to collaborate, are smaller employee resource groups. There are groups for veterans, women, those in the LGBTQ community, Latino and Latina employees, African American employees, and others.
“We want to have an environment where everybody can be their best,” Javdani said.
Women’s Leadership Network at Slalom
About six years ago, Javdani started another group, called the Women’s Leadership Network, to specifically help female employees succeed at Slalom.
“I think I’ve been lucky enough not to have any of the larger stand up ‘Me Too’ moments,” Javdani said. “But of course there have been little things along the way. For me, I’ve been lucky enough to have mentors, male and female, that have helped me navigate some situations that may have been a little bit gender-focused.”
WLN is a multi-faceted organization. First, it is an internal community. It’s a place where women can voice concerns or doubts, talk privately, and encourage one another. Second, WLN is a professional development group. It provides resources for women to learn new skills or get coaching in certain areas. Third, the group is an organizational arm of Slalom that helps the company’s evolution.
“That’s everything from maternity or work-life balance to things like, if we’re going around a room and everyone’s speaking, making sure that there’s a woman in the room that’s speaking,” Javdani said.
Lastly, WLN is also an externally-focused group. It helps women network with women at other companies. It encourages community outreach. And it helps women to find and pursue new career roles.
WLN is not exclusive to women. Javdani said that men are invited to join, and that many do. “From a business imperative, there’s so many studies that show that diverse teams perform better,” she said.
Javdani’s efforts in fostering an inclusive and diverse work environment have earned Slalom its own accolades as of late. The firm was named one of Fortune’s Best Places to Work in 2018, a list that was curated in partnership with Great Place to Work For All. Slalom also scored perfect marks in this year’s Human Rights Campaign Foundation Corporate Equality Index, meaning the company excels in creating an equal workplace for LGBTQ employees.
Javdani’s Family Background and Upbringing
Javdani credits her diverse family and unique upbringing for her own work ethic and change-making leadership skills. She spent the first five years of her life in Iran. “It was a growing economy, very friendly with the West. We had a great life there,” she said.
But as political tensions rose around the time of the Iranian Revolution, her mother, who is American, and her father, who is Iranian, decided to move to the United States. Javdani’s parents had developed successful careers in Tehran. But once they arrived in the U.S., they had to start over. “That has a profound impact on a little kid,” she said.
She watched her father deal with the kind of hardships that many immigrants face. “It wasn’t a great time to be Iranian in the United States,” she explained. “I saw the pride that he had in who he was and what he did, but I also saw that it wasn’t easy for him.”
What she saw in her family back then — their perseverance and their embrace of differing cultures — prepared Javdani to help lead Slalom’s 5,000 employees into a more inclusive, more diverse, more collaborative workplace today.
“I definitely recognize that there are cultural and organizational biases whether we intend them to be there or not,” she said. “And I recognize what people can do when there are no biases there.”