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Strategy in Action: Awareness

If you’re just joining in, check out Part 1 first.

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The most effective tool I’ve had for working on awareness is having regular, well established, public and archived group communication channels. For me, this comes in the form of a Week In Review that I send to my organization every week and a monthly engineering-wide All-Hands meeting. Having these tools enables me to speak directly and uniformly to my team. Most of the awareness pieces I’ve done so far have been via my Week in Review. And I’ll step through some of them here.

Introduced Myself and My Role

When I joined the company, my role was not clear to many in the organization. This is not an uncommon thing for new leadership hires. It was in my interest to describe my role and responsibilities. I made sure to include D&I in that responsibilities list. It looked like this:

Diversity and Inclusion: It’s no secret that our engineering population is skewed. It’s really important to me that we find ways to ensure we create an environment where all folks feel welcome and can succeed. A homogenous culture is a risk to our business, a recruiting disadvantage, and an overall less rich human and work experience. This is going to be hard work. We are going to make a lot of mistakes. I look forward to forging this path with you all.

Communicated our D&I Strategy

The strategy as outlined in my prior post was lifted almost verbatim from my Week In Review. Communicating the strategy was important for a couple reasons. First, I’m a big believer in telling people what I’m going to do, then doing it. Communicating the strategy gave folks some vague idea of what this was going to look like, and—whether they knew it or not it—informed them that they were going to have to change and grow as well. There’s no overnight fix to bringing about inclusion. It’s a guided journey, and giving my organization some certainty around how we were going to do it and what it was going to look and feel like was important. Second, at the time, I was all strategy and no tactics. I needed help, and I figured asking was a good way to invite people in. I wouldn’t classify the response as a success, but I did have some good conversations and established that we could collaborate on this issue.

Binary Capital and The Google Manifesto

When the Binary Capital and the Google Manifesto stories broke, I brought it up with my org. With both of these incidents I tried to offer perspective. On Binary Capital, I talked about the myth of false accusations—how people who speak up often pay a terrible price in lost job opportunities, social alienation, and threats of physical retaliation.

The Google Manifesto took a bit more nuance. I didn’t want to create a venue for discussing the content of the memo. Instead, I thought about what might appeal to the mind of a male engineer.  A common scenario I saw play out over the weekend were folks supporting the memo arguing for ideological diversity and forwarding the notion that we should create a safe space for differing ideas.That by trying to shut down this conversation, D&I proponents were, themselves, practicing intolerance. I spoke about the disingenuous nature of such a safe space and how setting one up for such a discussion results in a lose-lose scenario for URMs.

Talking about these events might seem counter-intuitive. They did not have a direct impact on our business or engineering organization. There was a low likelihood that anyone would bring it up,. So why surface something that might invite uncomfortable conversations and more problems?

Part of what we’re trying to fix is that we have been ignoring these problems. It’s fallen into the not important/not urgent quadrant of our organizations’ prioritization matrix. Because of that, many, if not most, engineers are not plugged in to the D&I tech community and often never hear about these incidents. So, when companies suddenly take measures to increase inclusion, they appear to be out of the blue and unnecessary. I’m not advocating for talking about every incident that arises–you may literally not have time for anything else if you do–but I do believe in feeding folks enough signal so they can perceive the problem as being legitimate and systemic.

Started Listening to Different Voices

I asked my organization to begin to diversify who they follow on social media. I provided them a list of underrepresented minorities in tech and asked them to follow 20 new voices. Here’s how I framed it at the time:

We are building a great workplace here. Part of building that workplace is building awareness of how the lived experienced of underrepresented minorities differs from our own. When we bring the experiences of marginalized people into our mainstream consciousness, it gives us a better backdrop to understand the gaps between how we perceive ourselves and how we are actually perceived.

Talked About Wins

Changes can be subtle and difficult to observe over a long period of time. Whenever we acted to make specific changes to create a more inclusive environment, I made sure to point it out.

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Working on awareness can sometimes feel like talking into the ether. Don’t expect folks to jump on board right away or to see immediate results. The message might not land the first time around or even the fifth. Don’t let the lack of instant gratification deter you from investing the time. It’s a long term endeavor, and, if done consistently, can serve as the foundational piece upon which to build the rest of your initiatives.

Published in D&I

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