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Bootstrapping Inclusion: Education & Effecting Behavioral Change

If Awareness is helping folks see new doors. Education and Effecting Behavioral Change is about opening those doors and getting folks to walk through them. In other words, it’s a lot harder. Here’s what we’ve done so far.

Education

Education is the piece of the strategy that I’m struggling with the most. Inclusion as a topic runs deep. I am not an expert, and I am also not confident in my ability to teach the subject matter. What I have relied on is building a library of resources to refer people to when I ask them to make efforts toward becoming an ally or when folk ask me about how to learn more.

I definitely have a lot of work to do here. There is a significant amount of reading material represented in this list and it’s far from complete. It’s also primarily focused on women in tech and I need to expand it to include all under indexed populations in our industry.

Effecting Behavioral Change

At the end of the day, this is the part of the strategy that really matters. What are the actual changes we’re going to make to create a more inclusive environment? How will we hold yourselves accountable to these changes? How do we move from inclusion theater to inclusion reality?

Changing behaviors is hard. Removing casual sexism and discrimination is super hard. For so many of us, exclusionary behaviors are second nature. It’s that wink we give, that casual comment in the hallway, or that off-color joke we’ve been using for years that elicits a polite laugh. Effecting behavioral change is where ideal meets reality.

It’s also really uncomfortable. Despite knowing and understanding the motivations and principles behind my actions, I still have moments of doubt before taking them. I still wonder if I’m making a too big a deal about something or if what I’m asking is a good use of someone’s time. Sometimes this means I wait for 5-10 minutes or even an hour or two before following through. I’m telling you this not because there is a gray area here, but because I want y’all to know that in the moment you may rarely feel certainty.

Improving Discourse

When I see/hear something that is exclusionary, I have a private discussion with that person. So far, nothing to date has been severe enough to warrant a public response, but I’ve definitely experienced situations elsewhere where that was the appropriate thing to do. In terms of specifics, I’ve had to talk to people about inappropriate jokes, comments in slack channels, and offensive word choice. I currently do not share this responsibility with anyone else, so there’s some work here for me to start bringing more leaders into the fold. On that front, I have been raising awareness to my managers that I’m going to talk to a specific person about a specific incident so they can start to build a sense of what I view to be out of bounds. I’m not perfect when it comes to this piece. I still miss a fair number of opportunities to give feedback to folks about how they are talking about particular demographics.

Naming Things

Shortly after I joined, we launched a project called Log Lady that I asked us to rename. I was very fortunate and thankful that the engineer working on the project was completely onboard with it and was happy to put in the effort. Once the work was complete, I made sure to recognize the engineer and explain the reasoning to my org. Here’s what that looked like:

I have a preference for refraining from the gendered naming of our projects, tools and technologies. Eventually, we’ll roll this out as a policy. The reason being that I want us to be able to talk about our work in ways that do not accentuate stereotypes and/or make people feel excluded. To put a finer point on it, we can imagine holding a operability review where we ask the question, “What happens when Log Lady goes down?” or if Log Lady were to fail in the middle of something critical, “Log Lady, that f-ing b-!” Every time something like that happens we accrue inclusion debt, and as that debt mounts it eventually leads to folks leaving tech. I’d rather we avoid these situations entirely if possible.

Compensation Calibration

There is a great post by Lara Hogan on this. Compensation Calibration is something that I’ve practiced for a long time. At the start of the year, I ask my managers to put together a compensation/promotion plan for each of their reports for the year and put it in a spreadsheet. It looks a lot like this. On a quarterly basis, we come together and affirm or amend the plan. We look at compensation adjustments, level changes, and pay/promotion equity. We work as a group to ensure we are paying people the same money for the same level of work. We also track how long folks spend in their levels over time to keep an eye on promotion velocity.

I’ve heard numerous stories of calibration exercises going sideways. I try to avoid this by creating a supportive environment in the meeting and promoting the concept of “first team” amongst my managers. I also set the expectation that the goal is optimize adjustment dollars across the entire organization and not just within an individual manager’s team.

Compensation calibration as a group also has some other nice effects including:

  • Guaranteeing that every engineer’s career progression and compensation is considered during the course of a year
  • Enabling engineering managers to build a better, holistic view of an engineer’s contributions through the perspectives of the other managers in the room
  • Ensuring an employee’s compensation and career growth do not rest solely in the hands of a single manager
  • Giving managers and their reports a framework and clear expectations of when conversations about compensations adjustments and promotions happen

In the past, this exercise has uncovered vast inequities in pay and leveling. URMs are often under-leveled and significantly underpaid compared to their peers. I’ve had situations where the pay gap has been in the $20K to $40K range. Those discrepancies add up very quickly over short periods of time. Having experimented with both gradual increases and immediate corrections, the most effective course of action has been to use immediate corrections. This might put you in the position of having to give someone a 20%-30% pay increase. Do it. The alternative plays out as a perpetual game of catch-up and years of continued pay inequity.

Inclusivity as a Point of Performance

We’ve written inclusivity into our career ladder. We’ve made it a point of performance. At the most junior levels of our career ladder, engineers have a responsibility to learn about and contribute to an inclusive culture. As they become more senior, they pick up responsibility for mentorship and sponsorship. Managers are responsible for recruiting and retaining a diverse team. Directors are on the hook for instituting recruiting practices and inclusive policies that lead to hiring and retaining a diverse organization.

A bullet point in a career ladder doesn’t mean a whole lot unless it’s enforced. We have yet to see if, as a leadership cohort, we have the discipline to enforce it at promotion and annual evaluation time.

Interviewing for Inclusion

Inspired by this thread, we’ve recently made changes to our interview process to explicitly ask about inclusionary behaviors. We’re still calibrating this segment of our interview, but in the interest of interviewing for our values, it certainly feels better than what we were doing previously.

The answers we’ve gotten to date have been mostly disappointing. As a person who is passionate about learning and developing talent, I feel very conflicted about where that leaves me when it comes time to make a decision on candidates. Where these candidates end up next could mean the difference between them learning how to become allies or remaining in the dark. I know that if they join our organization, we could provide some of that guidance, but I have to ask myself whether we can underwrite more inclusion debt and who would be servicing it. Repeatedly, I’ve come to the conclusion that URMs in my organization would be the ones having to bear that bulk of that burden, and we just can’t afford that right now.

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Overall, this represents five months of effort. We have a long way to go, and, as I mentioned earlier, we still have very few results to show for this work—which is probably to be expected. But while progress has been slow, the weekly, if not daily, reminders of the inadequacies of the status quo are more than enough to keep me motivated.

As the organization grows and evolves we’ll have more opportunities to practice higher degrees of inclusion. We haven’t touched on apologies, gender pronouns, sponsorship, employee resource groups, checking our biases, or creating backchannels. All of that is yet to come. And when we do get there, I’m looking forward to being able to share those experiences as well.

Published in D&I

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