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Creating a More Equal Workplace

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Women are leaving the tech industry because they are unhappy, don’t feel valued or lack access to opportunities. We need to create environments that retain and grow employees, regardless of what they look like on the outside, argued Kate Heddleston. She provided a process that organizations can use if they want to create equal access opportunities in her QCon London talk.

Kate Heddleston spoke about the state of inequality in tech industry and how to improve workplace inequality at QCon London 2017. InfoQ is covering the conference with Q&As, summaries and articles.

A lack of diversity is a symptom, not the problem, said Heddleston. She made an analogy with coal mine workers who used canaries to check air quality. Heddleston stated that the tech industry isn’t working enough to solve the underlying problems; they are watching the canary die and bringing in more canaries.

Women who are working in the tech industry were mostly convinced by a brother, father, or male friend, said Heddleston. Very few started their career there because women asked them to join. Her impression is that women who are working in the tech industry may not feel comfortable enough to recommend it to other women.

People leave jobs when they don’t feel valued or when they lack access to opportunities, said Heddleston. She asked women why they were leaving the tech industry. Most said that it was because they were unhappy. They also felt that they couldn’t talk about that problem in their exit interview.

We can be too scared to look at ourselves to see how we are doing when it comes to diversity. You are what you measure, and if you are not measuring anything on diversity, then it says you don’t really care about it, argued Heddleston.

It can be exhausting trying to solve all problems due to workplace inequality, said Heddleston. People get a burnout trying to do this.

Heddleston provided a process that people can apply in their organization if they want to create equal access opportunities. The process consists of asking three questions:

  • What are the things that everyone on your team should have equal access to?
  • What are all the advantages or disadvantages people have that prevent equal access?
  • How can you measure and reduce points of unequal access?

She suggested to ask these three questions in organizations, using brainstorms as safe spaces where everyone can participate equally and come up with ideas to address workplace inequality.

Empathy helps you to do a deep dive and understand how people are feeling. Listening helps you to understand the problem. You have to start from the assumption that it really is a problem because people experience it, said Heddleston.

Heddleston suggested to use analytical thinking to solve problems. Engineers can improve their engineering culture and make it more inclusive by using analytical and problem solving skills that they already have. It helps if you are analytically compassionate about solving the problem.

You have to be repeatable and transparent when addressing the problems, said Heddleston. People need to know what’s going on and if problems will be solved or not. Such an approach also fosters collaboration.

Heddleston concluded her talk by stating that we are making good progress, but we still have a way to go to make the tech industry more inclusive.

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