Black Tech Matters: How Chime Is Creating Safe Spaces and Embracing Diversity
Photo Credit: AfroTech

Black Tech Matters: How Chime Is Creating Safe Spaces and Embracing Diversity

While many brands and companies were proud to announce that Black lives matter earlier this year, 2020 continues to teach us that actions make a bigger impact than words alone. When it comes to the tech industry, true diversity remains the elephant in the room — a room with few Black and brown seats at the table. 

At Chime, an online banking company, diversity and inclusion are driving factors in attracting new talent and retaining those already there, a change that started from directly within the organization. In a blog penned in June, founder Chris Britt was transparent about the need to address systemic injustice, writing “I grew up in a city that was more than 50 percent Black, but as a White man I realize I don’t understand what it’s like to walk in a Black person’s shoes.”

He added, “Until this moment, I never fully recognized the lasting impact of our country’s history on Black individuals and families. I never grasped what it must feel like, every day, to be judged by the color of your skin. The violent symptoms of systemic racism were never made more horrifyingly clear than they are today.”

Chime has since participated in the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), donating $100,000 to the racial and economic justice organization and matching up to an additional $150,000 through member donations. They also continue to empower employee resource groups like AfroChime, which provides an internal platform and voice for Black associates through town halls and more. Company-wide, Chime has strengthened their offerings by creating financial solutions for those with challenged or limited credit histories initiatives that directly impact marginalized communities. They’ve also made other changes within the company, including the recent hiring of their first Head of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging, Erica Johnson. 

Sitting down with AfroTech, Chime Senior Fraud Operations Specialist Syeda Lee and Senior Quality Assurance Engineer Priscilla Alfaro Carvajal discussed the tech industry at large, how to find your niche in it, AfroChime and more.

Priscilla Alfaro Carvajal, Senior Quality Assurance Engineer

AfroTech: So tell us about your journey to Chime.

Priscilla: I wasn’t sure whether to be in financial services. There is a really bad reputation about that, so I wasn’t sure but was contacted by a recruiter about the company. Looking at the website, I could tell it wasn’t like every other financial institution. It was more like a tech company that was trying to do financial services. So, I eventually came to Chime and I’m so, so glad that I did.

AT: Describe a project that’s made a real impact on you since joining Chime.

Priscilla: So my first project was the credit building card; I joined at the beginning of that. It’s been launched and is socially important because it’s helping people without any credit history be able to apply for a credit card or start building that credit. This resonated with me because I’m originally from Costa Rica, and when I moved here, I didn’t have any credit. So I had to start building that. It was a journey for me, just getting to know how credit works in this country. Seeing that we are helping a lot of other people go through that journey was really meaningful for me.

AT: How has Chime worked to assist employees this year?

Priscilla: It’s been really good to see. So far we’ve had a lot of support — from helping us set up our home offices to providing the flexibility to work from home, giving options for people who have kids or other things so they can make plans for school or whatever they need. It takes a toll on your mental health, so Chime provided a base like “take care of yourself day,” a free day for people to take time off and take care of themselves.

The other thing that they provided is Modern Health, which is an application or service for those that need more help or some support. We have that available as part of our benefits.

AT: How would you say leadership at Chime encourages diversity and inclusion in the workplace?

Priscilla: That has been a big topic this year, and we actually started an employee resource group last year. So this year, it’s been a big resource for the community inside of Chime, the Black community specifically, to have that internal support. We’ve had events and open forums where they brought in facilitators for those difficult conversations. They’ve really tried to create safe spaces and provide some guidance for dealing with emotions. We did some fundraising for initiatives like Black Lives Matter and other organizations that we support. There’s also been a big commitment in recruiting, and we just hired, I believe, our first diversity, inclusion and belonging manager. 

AT: Is there anything more you’d like to see in terms of diversity within the industry?

Priscilla: Within the industry, for sure, I think it’s been made very clear that we just don’t have the numbers, especially at the leadership kind of level. So there has been a call for that, and at Chime in general, they have really been committed to making that happen. 

As one of the leads for AfroChime, we’ve been having those discussions with leadership and our community. Some of the initiatives we’ve done include making Juneteenth a company-wide holiday. We’ve also had speakers come in, like Cynt Marshall, who spoke regarding her journey to becoming the first Black CEO of the Dallas Mavericks. Most recently we did an election event specifically regarding voter suppression. 

AT: What advice would you give Black professionals interested in starting a career at Chime?

Priscilla: You might be lonely on your journey, but there are places where you can be supported, you can be encouraged — you can find that. And I feel really blessed that I found that in Chime. I usually work for smaller companies, so I couldn’t fully express myself, and it felt isolating. Very isolating. So this was a big blessing for me. This year, having the support and the community, it felt really good to have that. That’s important.

For Black professionals, it’s about making a community. If you don’t have it in your company, you can look outside at other resources or people that might be in your situation. So find those people that align with you, that are on your journey, on your path.

Syeda Lee, Senior Fraud Operations Specialist

AfroTech: So tell us about your journey to Chime.

Syeda: So it’s a funny story. I actually have degrees in fashion design and fashion merchandising, and I worked for a startup called the Real Real. That is where I was first exposed to fraud and really gained a strong connection and relationship with the person that they brought on as the fraud manager. We didn’t work in fraud together there. But, after we left, I did some contracting at Facebook, and we connected again before working together at AAA, where we built out the first fraud department for AAA in California, Nevada, and Utah. Later on, I found Chime and continued my journey into fraud and learning how to mitigate fraud on different platforms.

AfroTech: For those unfamiliar with Chime, tell us a little bit about the company.

Syeda: I would describe the platform as something you can use to engage with your bank. Most bank platforms are not fine, and you don’t really want to engage with your bank. It’s sort of just a screen with your balance and savings if you have any. Whereas with Chime, I feel like the platform really has a great user interface and is really great to interact with via social media. The actual app is great as a banking platform and is really meant to serve the members, instead of finding creative ways of penalizing you because you’re learning about how to deal with your finances. So I really feel like it’s a great platform to learn about your finances. 

I’ve learned a lot from working and not working and other things where I made some mistakes and had to learn the hard way. So I feel like this is a great way for you to delve into your financial journey without dealing with all of the negative repercussions. 

AfroTech: What protections has Chime put in place to protect against fraud?

Syeda: I always think about fraud as protecting people from themselves. It’s sort of like stopping people from falling into things that they don’t fully understand, like money laundering, which is easy for people to fall into without being fully aware of what they’re doing. Chime works hard to make sure it doesn’t appear on our platform. We put a lot of controls in place to ensure that you have a positive experience. Things like understanding if the transaction is not recognized — we’ll reach out to ask you to confirm — or using rules or thresholds to identify if something is different from your normal spending patterns. 

We also look very carefully at anyone who may be involved in fraudulent behaviors. It’s really taking an empathetic approach because I know that a lot of people sometimes aren’t very aware of what constitutes illegal activity on a financial platform, like blessing circles. 

AfroTech: What’s something you love most about your work with Chime?

Syeda: I would say what I love most about what I do is definitely my team. I’m really fortunate to work with people who are really passionate about what we do; and in the U.S. and other parts of the world, we work collectively to build a better platform. A lot of what I love about this role is the ability to be a creative problem solver and really having that fine attention to details so that, when you see something strange or odd, you can pull data to understand if it’s a broader trend across the platform while thinking of creative ways to resolve that issue. Whether it’s, you know, extending member communications for a specific issue or maybe removing a merchant from the platform because they’re exhibiting strange behavior across multiple accounts. I enjoy creative problem solving and taking a strategic approach to problem solving, as well as working with a team to build a platform that helps protect its members and protect Chime as a financial institution. 

AfroTech: During such a tumultuous year, how has Chime been proactive with helping associates or providing safe spaces?

Syeda: I think that Chime has done a lot of unique things, and we’ve onboarded tons of new people, so it’s been really great to see people provide that feedback. When I started, we were around like 60-something people and now we’ve got about 500, and we have so many employee resource groups. We have about six now, and we’ve had programming, including a voter education month where the head of government affairs helped each ERG put together programming specific to their group or audience so that we could educate everyone on how voting impacts different groups of people. 

At AfroChime, which is one of the ERGs that I co-lead, we spoke about voter suppression and the history of suppressing the Black vote. Being able to share that information with the company and shed light on the struggles that different groups of people have had (and continue to have) when we’re trying to exercise our right to vote was really awesome. So to see people so engaged and willing to add allies was encouraging. 

AfroTech: How has AfroChime contributed to inclusiveness at Chime?

Syeda: I think we’ve done a really great job of just creating space in general. When we first started AfroChime, we’d just reach out to people individually and ask them to hang out in our offices. I think it’s important when you start a new workplace, especially if you are one of the few people who look like you, to actually go out of your way to feel welcome and to have someone to come to if they’re seeking a community. So I used to do that in the beginning, and as we built out over time into a larger employee resource group, we’ve done a lot of fun things. We did a screening of Living Single, for example, and it was a really great and creative way to engage in our culture but also have light-hearted conversations while looking at the show through a new lens. That was really awesome to see. We had allies in that too.

We also have a new book club where, for instance, they read about the assassination of civil rights activist Huey P. Newton. Later on, we’re going to have a broader conversation across multiple employee resource groups about colorism. Even though I understand how colorism affects me as a Black person in America, it is a global problem. It’s not just in Black culture; it happens in Asia and other cultures too. It happens all over the globe, and to have that sort of unified thread and have really intelligent conversations about colorism, it’s something we look forward to doing in the future. We’re also going to have a talk about anti-racist versus non-racist, and what it means to be actively anti-racist versus being passively not racist.

AT: What advice would you give Black professionals interested in starting a career at Chime?

Syeda: I would always give the advice of “Look at your network strategically.” I can’t stress that enough because my previous manager, Lauren, was phenomenal at helping me get in spaces and pulling me aside like “You need to do this in order to get to the next level.” Because all you need is one yes, you know. For someone to say “Yes, I’ll hop on a Zoom call with you and chat about this.” Or “I’ll share my interview experience and what the process looks like with you.” So I think not being afraid to reach out to your network and communicate with people is important. 

I would also say not being afraid to be yourself. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become less afraid of what people will think of me when I show up to work or for an interview. I think, as Black people especially, we’ve been conditioned that there’s something wrong with who we are when we enter professional spaces, whether it’s your race, your twists, or your natural hair. For example, I have a pretty obviously ethnic name, and I’m sure a lot of people deal with that, like, “Oh they’re going to know or assume I’m a person of color just because of my name.” And I feel very much that if they have a problem with who I am when I walk out the door, then I don’t want to work there. Always remember that when you are interviewing and choosing a place, they aren’t just choosing you, you’re choosing them. You can choose to work anywhere.

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For now, those that choose Chime know they will be supported in and out of the office. Chime continues to press forward as a financial innovator, especially when it comes to embracing diversity and inclusion. 

Craving a new career in tech? Discover how to find your niche at Chime.

This editorial is brought to you in partnership with Chime.