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Tech Life

Inclusion Done Right: Taking Action

May 1st, 2017 6:00am by
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“I cannot tell you,” said Cristina Noren, chief product officer at Interana, told me in an interview in SF last month “how amazing it is to go to work every day and just do my job. Not have to hassle with all the dancing I used to have to do to manage working in a sexist environment just to get my job done.”

I was intrigued by Noren’s unique work experience and started wondering, is there anyone besides Interana getting it right? What was it like to work at one of those companies? And, most importantly, what exactly are they doing that other companies could learn from?

This is part two of a three-part series on inclusion done right. Part one talks about the experience of employees, from engineers to CEOs, of working at a company where inclusion is part of the culture. Part two discusses the specific actions the companies take to create a feeling of inclusion. Part three talks about the hiring process, and how to hire not just for diversity, but for inclusion.

I interviewed four companies that focus on inclusion, not just diversity. Aubrey Blanche, global head of diversity and inclusion at Atlassian, broke it down this way: “Diversity is getting an invite to the party, inclusion is being glad to be there.” A lot of initiatives focus on head counts, she said, but there is little focus on keeping people there.

So it’s not just a matter of hiring more women and underrepresented minorities (URM), it’s keeping them there. That’s where inclusion comes in.

The companies interviewed represent a cross-section of the industry. Atlassian has products that include JIRA, a management tool for Agile projects. PagerDuty provides digital operations management for visibility into the full stack. Interana, just out of stealth mode late last year, provides behavioral analytics for big data, npm, the package manager for JavaScript.

Themes emerged. These companies create ways for employees to communicate. With each other and with human resources. And, most important, the leadership team is visibly, vocally and actively supportive of making all the employees feel like they want to be at the party.

Why Should CEOs Care?

“Aside from being the morally right thing to do,” said Issac Schlueter, CEO and founder of npm, every recent study has shown that it is good for the bottom line.” Indeed, both Fortune and TechCrunch laid out positive impacts.

The people who spoke to me are committed to bringing inclusion to their teams because it makes good business sense. Citing recent research and experience in their own business, they all talked bottom line. According to a recent McKinsey report, there is a “linear relationship” in the United States between diversity and the bottom line. “For every 10 percent increase in racial and ethnic diversity on the senior executive team, earnings increase 0.8 percent.”

But it’s more than upping your diversity numbers. Which are admittedly abysmal, as shown in this recent survey from Atlassian.

You can have a company with ample representation of various different demographic groups and identities, said Schlueter, but “if all the people at the executive level making the decisions are white dudes, and they only promote white dudes, that’s not inclusive. Inclusivity is a matter of listening to and valuing all voices.”

Or put another way, Noren said, “better technology comes from Dudes for Diversity.”

So it turns out that when you have engineers that are comfortable showing up to work and being who they are and feel valued for that, they are more productive.

At Atlassian, Dom Price, Head of R&D and Work Futurist thinks too many organizations think of diversity as a tax. He sees it as an investment. A lot of companies are looking for output, he said, and see homogenous teams as the path of least resistance. But he sees diversity as an investment. He wants as much diversity as possible, he said, because the discussions and arguments that arise will give me a better end product. “I’m after outcomes, a lot of companies are after outputs.”

Diversity is critical to us being successful, said Jennifer Tejada, CEO of PagerDuty. “I’m constantly making the connection between diversity and our success. It starts with me and a very clear, unconfusing view of the world: I will not accept behavior that falls below the standard of the company.”

Making the Commitment to Inclusion

In 2014 Google published its abysmal diversity numbers in 2014, and the tech world looked at the numbers in shock.

“That created a lot of chatter about the very different experiences that marginalized groups experienced,” explained Blanche.

Atlassian decided they needed to invest in early, to ensure they were proactive. In order to get it right, they needed a specialist. Enter Blanche, known to all as “The Diversity Lady.” She has a degree in political science and is trained in work theory. She describes her job as: “How do we study and tweak processes so our core people can thrive?”

Diversity is an extension of everything else they do, said Blanche, because they made it a core business strategy.

When she found a lot of interest in the grass roots level, Blanche started forming employee resource groups and talking about what the groups could do to effect change. In order to support this grassroots momentum, they needed to lead the effort at a strategic level, she said.

Blanche and her team reviewed everything from talent sourcing to evaluation processes. “It’s infrastructure work,” Blanche explained. They did a lot of studies that provided data to guide their change processes.

Report on Team Level

The biggest change they’ve made is measuring diversity at a team level, she said. The traditional way that diversity has been reported is broken, she explained, aggregating numbers at a corporate level does not show true diversity.

Dom Price, explained. “You can have a respectable number of women, for example, but when you break it down, they are all in marketing or human resources. That’s not diversity.”

Blanche defines diversity as “a group of people who are different from each other doing something together.” Which also describes a team.

“What you’re measuring and how, is really critical,” she said.

Overall, 13% of Atlassian employees were women, said Blanche, but when they broke it down to the team level, it turned out that 66% of teams had only one woman on them. This can lead to isolation, and a decrease in job satisfaction, she explained.

Blanche instituted measures to make more cross-team communities which lead to more community feel and better retention. One example of this is “coffee dates” every couple of weeks, get assigned another woman in the same or similar role (engineers paired with engineers on a different team), and they go for coffee. There’s no set agenda, the women can talk about what they want. “But they see more people like them at work,” said she said. “They have more people to reach out to when solving problems or needing mentoring.”

They also created Mentoring Rings, where employees are mentored in a formal way, with a special focus on marginalized populations.

“You can solve a bunch of problems at once,” she said, “if you’re really thoughtful about the way you’re using the data.”

As Always, Communication is Key

“What makes a difference,” Tejada said, is them [her employees] knowing they will be heard.” She has an open book policy; anyone can go to their managers or to the People, Talent and Vibe team and talk about their concerns without fear of reprisal.

At PagerDuty, Rachel Obstler said they are creating as many channels as possible for discussions about inclusion, making it as easy as possible for people to talk through whatever form they choose — Slack channel, face to face, whatever works for them. “The most important thing is visible communication and commitment,” she said.

Their internal Slack channel “One Diverse Team” is a safe space where people can talk or raise issues. The People, Talent and Vibe department monitors the slack channel and reaches out to posters when an issue is raised to follow up.

While there are a lot of diversity programs available, they’re not required, Obstler said. But the culture encourages it. PagerDuty hosts women’s networking events and Meetups (not just women oriented), and are starting an employee resource group for LGBT employees.

Recently, they had a town hall meeting where representatives from different departments stood up and talked about what diversity and inclusion meant to them, said Zayna Shahzad, a developer at PagerDuty.

“Inclusion at PagerDuty is diversity, in all the other aspects that don’t get talked about – ideas and perspective,” she said.

Atlassian also uses stories to encourage dialog. They have a strong blogging culture, and encourage people to blog about their life experiences, said Dom Price. While the posts don’t talk directly about privilege, stories about their life experiences and how they bring that to work end up exposing privilege without making people defensive. And it leads to conversations about shared life experiences, and how things are different for others.

“It’s only then that you properly unlock the value of diversity, said Price, “because they’re working on a common goal and they bring their unique perspectives to the table; they bring best selves to work every single day. That’s true diversity and inclusion.”

The value from that is huge, Price said. They share information internally with all their managers and leaders. “We talk about things that work and things we’ve tried that didn’t work and we share those stories so people feel there is less of a barrier to doing that.[communication].”

Changing in Response to Data

So what about those surveys Blanche commissioned to evaluate everything from talent sourcing to evaluation? They took a hard look at the data, figuring out how they could make systemic changes to stem implicit bias. Is that even possible?

One example she shared was how they overhauled their review process.  Studies showed that in self-performance reviews, men are more likely to overrate themselves and women are more likely to underrate themselves. Add to that that managers would change their initial reviews to reflect the employee’s self-review.

So how do you change your processes to counter this difference? Blanche said managers don’t see the employees self-reviews until after they’ve done their own reviews, so the conversation becomes about how the self-reviews do or do not match up to what the manager is seeing. It helps counter-act that discrepancy in confidence. As an added bonus, she said, it has significantly reduced the evaluation timeline. A win-win.

Leadership Matters

Schlueter says he’s open to diversity as a topic of discussion in his company and receptive to the lived experiences of the people he interacts with. “It’s important that this becomes a discussion in the company,” he said.

And, as always, actions speak louder than words. You can have all the dialog about diversity you want, IS said, but at the end of the day, the company shows you what things they are valuing by their actions.

“Culture comes from leadership,” saidTejada. “We set the tone, not just the values, but more how we behave and how we act.” She described her management style as focused reinforcing the positive and rewarding inclusive behaviors. “You don’t have to poke someone in the eye to get your point across.”

“If there is an opportunity to lead by example,” Tejada told me, “what diverse leadership looks like, it’s more natural for me to do, to demonstrate why it’s a good idea.”

“The immigration ban has affected my team directly, and that outraged me,” she said. As an international company, her employees travel the world. She held a town hall meeting to talk about the ban, her anger, and what they could do as a company and as individuals to stay safe.

She’s leveraging her position to be an advocate for the communities she’s in, whether it’s her peer group of CEOs, job candidates, leading by example, or as a role model for her 11-year old daughter. “I think a lot about what coping mechanisms she will need need to be successful and happy,” Tejada said.

And it doesn’t have to be sour grapes and sackcloth. “I talk a lot about having fun,” she said. “Diversity brings interesting color to everything I do.”

Blanche said, “Inclusion only works because our leaders feel really strongly about behavioral modeling.” For example, our CEO talked to the company after the US elections last November. He talked about how he recognized how those with marginalized identities. “I can’t know how you’re feeling, but I imagine it must be scary,” he told them. Bringing real-world issues into the workplace via conversation is important because it leads to leads to a discussion on all levels.

Ann Johnson, Interana CEO and co-founder, said the company was started with good gender diversity with herself as a female CEO. “I never really thought of it as an actual commitment to diversity, rather as building the kind of company I would like to work for.” They currently have a 50/50 ratio on the executive team of men/women. But she’s with Ruth Bader Ginsberg “we’ll have enough women when sometimes the diversity is reversed (100% women).”

PagerDuty is a sponsor of The New Stack.

Feature Image via Pixabay.

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TNS owner Insight Partners is an investor in: The New Stack.
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