Meet the Leaders Behind STEAM’s Inclusive Culture

There are no corner offices inside Steam Logistics’ headquarters. The CEO, president and leadership staff work alongside team members and are easily accessible. The sound of more than 100 keyboards clicking echoes through the open office as phones ring off the hook. Team members talk and laugh while today’s top hits play in the background. Evenly spaced monitors flash information atop long rows of wooden desks.

If this were any other logistics company, the commotion might overwhelm. Here, team members slap hands with high-fives and shout “way-to-go!”

Steam, a third-party logistics provider (3PL), supports carriers and shippers that deliver products around the globe. The company began in 2012 after branching out from another successful 3PL, Access America Transport. It now operates out of Chattanooga, with offices in Minnetonka, Minnesota, Birmingham, Alabama, Detroit, Michigan and Barranquilla, Colombia. Steam grew by 200% in 2020 and now serves over 1,500 customers with a dedicated staff of roughly 500 employees — a staffing milestone reached in December.

Steam cultivates a culture of inclusivity that’s impressive. The company takes pride in its diversity and thrives with the help of many people, from all walks of life, coming together to work as one. This culture did not grow organically nor did it happen overnight. This was a dedicated effort and two leaders specifically see it as their role to help move the company’s diversity and inclusivity mission forward — Brittany Paone, vice president of human resources; and Malcolm Harris, director of culture and brand experience.

Paone joined Steam in 2016, when the company employed approximately 45 people. In her role, Paone oversees human resources, where she implements strategies to attract, retain and develop great talent. She played a critical role in establishing Steam’s work culture early on including the six months invested in evaluating work culture goals. The result? Six maxims that drive Steam’s work culture. The first one is: respect the team.

Today, these maxims guide Steam’s recruitment and ensure that new employees align with the company’s core beliefs.

“Culture is intentional,” Paone says. “We’ve definitely had instances where our culture grew organically and it felt more like a frat house. We had to reevaluate over the last couple of years. What does Steam stand for? Who are we? What do we want to value in our employees? And, what do employees want to value when they come to work?”

Harris compares his relationship with Paone to that of a quarterback and head coach. As Steam’s brand and culture leader, Harris ensures Steam’s core beliefs radiate in all company communications – from branding to social media and community relations. He also oversees Steam’s recruitment initiatives while playing a vital role in attracting and retaining diverse talent.

Harris began his Steam career in international sales and moved through recruitment department ranks before taking on the director role in November. Leading by example, Harris aims to ensure all employees enjoy the best experience at Steam.

“I treat everybody like they are the CEO,” Harris says. “I treat myself like I’m the janitor, because I’m not better than anybody else. Titles are great, but we’re all on the same team. We all have the same jersey on and we’re just trying to come to one common goal, and that’s to be the best.”

This team mentality has helped make Steam one of the fastest growing companies in Chattanooga. In 2021, Steam announced plans to expand its downtown headquarters to the John Ross Building — a project that will bring an estimated 400 new jobs to Tennessee. On the recruitment side, Harris has the responsibility of selling Chattanooga to potential candidates. This has become an easy sell over time as Chattanooga continues to position itself as a place where young professionals can carve out a niche within corporate America. There are plenty of reasons outside candidates move to Chattanooga, whether it’s the outdoor amenities, low cost of living or incredibly fast internet. But when it comes to recruiting from diverse communities, recruiters can also position Chattanooga as a blank page where all people can leave their mark.

“Being a Black man, I love being able to know that there are spaces for me. But there’s also potential for me as well to create spaces for people that look like me. Downtown is changing every day and this is such a great place for young professionals,” Harris says.

With expansion comes the added challenge of scaling Steam’s inclusivity efforts. As members of diverse communities themselves, Paone and Harris have experienced both the benefits that come from diversity in the workplace, and the pitfalls stemming from a lack of representation. There are many misconceptions that develop from a lack of workforce diversity, especially when it comes to acquiring talent. Recruiters might feel pressured to hire a candidate in order to fill a quota without discovering if the candidate fits within the organization, or how the organization fits with the candidate. Across the table, some candidates from diverse communities might feel the need to hide their identity in order to move through the hiring process. With intentionality, this is not the case at Steam. The company empowers each employee by giving them a seat at the table regardless of age, race, gender or orientation.

“Being a gay woman, having a diverse workforce feels like I can be seen,” Paone says. “I have a community here and I’m accepted at work. I think having a diverse company helps with that. You’re not alone and you see people that look like you… We’ve been really cognizant of ensuring we have more diversity in our workplace because we don’t want people to feel as if they’re on an island.”

Paone and Harris actively combat these biases on a daily basis when hiring candidates. At Steam’s recruitment department, there are no tracking systems that could disqualify certain candidates based on key words. Instead, they look at every resume and make the effort to screen as many candidates as possible over the phone. They also take the extra step of encouraging candidates to fill any gaps in their resumes before interviewing, and are open to candidates with transferable skills that might not directly relate to logistics.

“Here, in our recruiting practices, your name can be whatever and you can look like whatever. Can you produce in the spot? That’s all we really care about,” Harris says.

By keeping an open mind and avoiding shortcuts within the hiring process, Steam recruiters reach their diversity goals while ensuring the right candidate is chosen for the job. Through these talent acquisition practices, Steam has positioned itself as one of the top employers in Chattanooga. As Steam moves towards the future, the spirit and innovation of Chattanooga’s diverse workforce moves as well.

Learn more by visiting steamlogistics.com.

Watch a recent interview with Harris, here.


Staff images courtesy of Whiteboard and Steam Logistics.

Rendering of Steam’s new headquarters by Franklin Architects.

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