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Draper Journal

How important is gender equality and diversity to one of the fastest-growing companies in the state?

Jun 19, 2019 03:38PM ● By Jennifer J Johnson

Female and male employees alike appreciate Nav’s work to ensure equal pay for equal work. The Draper company has 130 employees, with women fulfilling executive, managerial, technical and administrative roles, alongside equally paid male colleagues.

By Jennifer J. Johnson | [email protected]

An androgynous Don Draper look-alike, with slicked-back hair and suit worthy of a “Mad Men” episode, fills a screen with intriguing companions, including a Daenerys Targaryen body double and a vibrant Maria from “The Sound of Music.”

Meet the director of marketing, a software engineer responsible for building online credit card and lending marketplaces, and the director of product marketing for Draper’s high-flying Nav financial-services company, which in February nailed a $44 million Series C funding round.

All the “Navsters” (how the company refers to its talent) featured are women successfully navigating a high-tech startup culture often critiqued for its maleness. Their alter-ego characters represent their roles at Nav and how they help businesses groom themselves to best qualify, then secure, loans, credit cards and lines of credit. 

Women comprise 35 percent of Draper’s Nav, including Director of Marketing Kali Geldis, Software Engineer Tiffany Fritz and Director of Product Development Becky Higgins.


Their success is a combination of talent, drive and connections — and all that makes star employees, buoyed with a corporate culture promoting equity.

“For most of recorded history women have been marginalized at best, oppressed at worst, in every nation that’s ever existed,” says Nav Co-founder and CEO Levi King. “At Nav we’ll continue to right history’s wrong and engage women equally with men at every level." 

Startup culture not conducive to diversity?

Eighty-three percent of American startups are captained by white or Asian males, according to the Kapor Center for Social Impact.

Seven out of 10 individuals in technology have read news critical of the industry’s lack of diversity, reports the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTia).

When it comes to the business of people — or attracting, grooming and retaining talent for startups — startup culture can often, perhaps surprisingly, lead to inequality and a lack of diversity, explains Maggie Kruse, vice president of people and culture, for the newly well-heeled startup.

“A lot of startups are not even thinking about diversity,” she says. “They are just trying to go to market.”

Nav-igating credit-building opportunities for small businesses

Essentially a “Credit Karma for small businesses,” Nav is a company helping companies learn to appreciate and successfully nurture financing opportunities throughout various stages of corporate maturation.

The 130-person organization, founded in 2012, accomplished significant milestones in raising its own funding and saw a literal golden opportunity in helping other companies become, then stay, solvent.

However, Nav realized its short-term focus on product launch was compromising its big-picture opportunity to be more of an enduring go-to-financing brand.

As is the case with many startups, Kruse says, Nav initially considered her discipline, human resources, an afterthought.

“They got kind of lucky,” she says, noting that when she joined the company less than a year ago, Nav had managed to assemble a somewhat diverse and very skilled workforce. Nav, she says, was composed of 28% women, in an industry where 21% was the norm.

Kruse says she was hired to ratchet that up, and to do so swiftly — “to give an organic program ‘oomph,’” she says.

Giving an organic program ‘oomph’: Ensuring pay equity and a plan for future development

Nav leadership had tasked their new HR leader with the responsibility to increase the percentage of women in company leadership and to analyze and ensure equity, in terms of any gender pay gaps.

Three months was the initial timeline, which, upon realizing the enormity of the task, was revised to a year.

An energetic, skilled, connected Kruse delivered on all three goals within four months. 

The timing, Kruse says, coincidentally synched with March’s International Women’s Day, providing an apt opportunity for company-wide communications about the importance of equality in a vibrant company. It also served as excellent timing for distribution of financial-compensation assets to a full 65% of the women working for Nav.

The news — and surprise financial rewards — were obviously a boon for the women in the company who received them. But what about their male counterparts?

Kruse is clear: Nav employees were unanimous in appreciating the work to ensure equality.

She shares a letter received from male employee Tom Klein, who is a product manager with the company: “I’m impressed and grateful for all the research and consideration that must have went into the whole process. Proud to be a part of a company in Utah who is walking the walk in owning its values."

Cinching the gap — in dollars and in seats at the table

Kruse’s gap analysis research uncovered discrepancies in compensation between what many of Nav’s female and male employees were receiving.

“The compensation wasn’t fair, wasn’t transparent,” she says, deeming it a byproduct that is “really typical of startup companies and large companies as well.”

Nav management wanted to be crystal-clear with its commitment to equity and drafted, then broadly communicated, its compensation and advancement policies with employees.

The policy states: “Gender and ethnic inequity should only be something that our children read about in history books. We believe providing Navsters with company ownership, competitive pay, and a range of meaningful benefits is the start of creating a culture where people want to give the best they’ve got — not because they’re simply making money, but because they’ve fallen in love with our vision, mission, values, and team.”

Indivisibility and radical transparency

“At Nav, one of our core values is indivisibility,” says Caton Hanson, Nav co-founder and chief legal officer. “Equal pay is a driving factor in attaining an indivisible workforce.”

Business Development Account Manager Whitney Smith further observes: “Having worked all of my professional life in Utah, being largely outnumbered by male colleagues and experiencing disparity between men and women firsthand, it’s not surprising that we have one of the highest gender wage gaps in the country. Nav’s approach to achieving equal pay among all employees should be the norm, not the exception.”

“Radically transparent” is how Marketing Director Kali Geldis describes the company’s posture. “I not only got a raise, but I got to give raises to hard-working female and male team members that I manage. Nothing feels better than that.”

Today, Nav’s workforce comprises 35% women, a makeup Kruse says reflects the percentage of female business owners across the United States. The company recently added two women executives within the company and added another two to its board of directors.

The National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) confirms Nav’s math: Women-owned firms account for 39% of all privately held businesses in the country.

More than getting by with a little help from friends — Degreed and Women’s Leadership Institute

Nav’s swift journey to ensuring equity for its employees was aided through outreach.

Kruse notes that Nav’s relationship with Salt Lake City company Degreed helped inspire Nav’s approach to equity.

Another key component to Nav’s ensuring diversity was the Women’s Leadership Institute’s ElevateHer Challenge, where more than 200 Utah companies have committed to focus on one or more aspects of equity assurance in the workplace. Of the six categories, Nav has committed to five and, in May, joined more than 30 businesses in accepting the ElevateHer Challenge across the state in ensuring equity for women in the workplace.

“Gender equity is personal for me,” says Nav President Greg Ott. “Not only am I a dad to two strong-willed daughters, I wouldn’t be where I am in my career today without the aspirational women leaders who I had the honor of working for.”