Miriam Warren Miriam Warren
Chief Diversity Officer, Yelp
Board Chair, Yelp Foundation
Sandee Kastrul Sandee Kastrul
President, Co-Founder, Chief Hope Officer, i.c.stars


November 03, 2023


In recent years, there has been a prominent shift in the way we think about the workplace. Many jobs have migrated out of offices and into employees’ homes, giving rise to an unprecedented blending of work and life. As the home and office become one, there is greater visibility into the lives of employees, and how they show up to work as their true, authentic selves.  

Workers are demanding higher wages, remote or hybrid work, flexible schedules, development opportunities, and overall respect. The key to retaining talent now lies in honoring authenticity and supporting each individual holistically. This opens the door to a diverse, qualified, and often untapped talent pool. Simultaneously, individuals gain access to workplaces that enable them to show up as their whole professional selves, and will stick around long term.  

Developing The Next Generation of Leaders for Today’s Workforce 

Enter i.c.stars, a non-profit workforce-development organization, that offers a hands-on, immersive program focused on experiential learning for underemployed young adults.  

Class, age, race, and a constantly changing definition of “professionalism” intertwine to complicate getting ahead at work. As a Yelp Foundation grantee, i.c.stars helps participants navigate the changing tides so they can focus on what matters most: bringing their unique perspective to their work so they and their companies can succeed.  

 The Yelp Foundation supports charitable organizations and activities addressing the needs of local communities, and promotes a culture of philanthropy among Yelp employees. i.c.stars is a Yelp Foundation grantee, aligned in purpose through a common set of shared values. Yelp’s mission and values are baked right into the company culture—with space to evolve to reflect employee feedback and the changing state of the workforce. The company provides holistic benefits to support employees in their professional and personal lives and celebrates their differences to build a culture where everyone belongs. This helps Yelp attract and retain folks like the future leaders from i.c.stars who share those values and feel comfortable and empowered to bring their own perspective to the company. 

i.c.stars participants develop skills to excel in the tech sector by building web-based applications that solve real client challenges. They receive professional skill building, technical training, mentorship, and leadership development, too. A strategic blend of real-world client experience and scripted programming gives participants the tools to succeed in today’s workforce and solve challenges facing our society. 

More than 20 years in workforce development has taught us that the goal is to not only improve the lives of our individual students, but to develop leaders who return to their communities and drive lasting change.  

There’s a common misconception that supporting underprivileged workers means giving them the skills to escape their circumstance. In reality, when we invest in the development of these individuals, we clear the way for them to improve society as only they can. We want to give them the tools to transform their communities, not run away from them. When you understand that the members of a given community are the ones best positioned to improve it, it’s clear that creating space for each individual to be their authentic self in turn benefits us all. 

The training at i.c.stars has evolved to meet this ever-changing labor market. We’ve pivoted to focus on the whole person and their experience inside and outside of the workplace. When employers do the same, workers are able to “unmask” their differences, and put that mental and emotional energy toward more productive pursuits.  

Like many workplaces, i.c.stars has embraced the ongoing shift to remote work to give participants more flexibility; where we once always went to client sites, we now employ a hybrid model. We’ve also restructured our “All Skates:” regular meetings in which everyone is invited to the table to discuss any topic. Previously, these meetings were reserved for announcements; now they’re all about centering on the individual and checking in on a human level to support one another in the workplace. Seemingly simple topics, like workplace attire, have changed in recent years too. Once, we coached participants to dress in traditional corporate attire. Now, we help them find a balance between wearing what makes them feel most like themselves and dressing to impress clients. 

© i.c.stars
© i.c.stars

How Tech Companies and Organizations like i.c.stars Can Work in Parallel  

For workforce developers, simple skill building is a strategy of the past. To develop talent poised to excel in a flexible post-pandemic workforce, we first create space for self-awareness by helping individuals identify and express their own mission and values so they can apply them to their work.  

Employers can support our efforts by clearly articulating their mission and values, and then using that to drive every decision they make—including which organizations to partner with and whom to hire.  

Other companies looking to hire and retain a thriving workforce can benefit from allying with mission-aligned organizations in the same way. Such partnerships show employees and candidates that your values are more than just words on a careers page.  

Until all employees have access to workplaces that honor their authentic selves, real change won't happen. Thankfully, partnerships like the one between the Yelp Foundation and i.c.stars are paving the way. 

About the authors

Miriam Warren

Miriam Warren

Miriam Warren is the Chief Diversity Officer at Yelp and Board Chair of the Yelp Foundation.

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Sandee Kastrul

Sandee Kastrul

Sandee is the proud president, co-founder, and chief hope officer of i.c.stars, a workforce development organization, and a social enterprise.

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