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Embracing Diversity and Fostering Inclusion: A Necessity

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In technology we need to consistently innovate and push boundaries, which we cannot do to the best of our ability without hiring, listening and retaining different demographics of people. A tech industry which actively supports and empowers underrepresented groups is a better industry for everyone. Embracing diversity and fostering an environment of inclusion improves the bottom line.

Sheree Atcheson, board-appointed Global Ambassador at Women Who Code, spoke about embracing diversity and inclusion and becoming a better leader at Women in Tech Dublin 2018. InfoQ is covering this event with Q&As and summaries.

Embracing diversity can bring business benefits, said Atcheson. Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to outperform competitors. Those in the top quartile for ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to outperform competitors.

There are clear studies showcasing when embracing diversity and fostering an environment of inclusion, our bottom lines are better. Atcheson explained that "it’s because we are listening to different voices, eliminating risk and creating a product with the masses in mind and not just one demographic." Similarly, she said, it’s why one female on the board of a business can reduce the risk of bankruptcy by 20%.

Middle management has a lot of power to create positive change in their ways of working, how they lead their teams and how they expect their teams to behave and operate, said Atcheson. For example, understanding that different people require different ways of working, ensuring events organised are accommodating to all people, and simply listening to what your team needs and actioning accordingly.

InfoQ interviewed Atcheson about embracing diversity and fostering inclusion.

InfoQ: You are a global ambassador for Women Who Code. What is their goal and what kind of activities do they organise?

Sheree Atcheson: Women Who Code is the world’s largest non-profit globally dedicated to women excelling in technology careers. We have over 167,000 members globally, and a presence in over 60 cities. Local Networks around the world host technical, career, educational, and networking events, and free tickets and scholarship opportunities are made available to members through the weekly CODE Review Newsletter, which also features professional success stories from women in the industry.

We are here to provide a space for those who exclusively identify as female to come together, nurture their digital confidence and develop their technical skillsets. Through Women Who Code, we are creating the leaders of today, tomorrow and the future.

InfoQ: Diversity is not just about gender; it can appear in many ways. Can you elaborate in which ways it can appear, and how we can establish a broader view of diversity?

Atcheson: Diversity is multi-faceted, and covers gender, ethnicity, abilities, religion, socio-economic background, sexuality and everything in between. We need to ensure we remember that and focus on intersectional strategies to reach all different demographics - diverse teams make diverse products and diverse products are better because they have considered a multitude of viewpoints and ideas to get to the final solution.

InfoQ: How can diversity increase innovation revenue?

Atcheson: When employees "think their organisation is committed to and supportive of diversity, and they feel included", innovation revenue increases by 83%. Alongside this, companies reporting above-average diversity on management teams reported 19% higher innovation revenue than those with below-average leadership diversity. We are in technology, which means we need to consistently innovate and push boundaries. We cannot do that to the best of our ability without hiring, listening and retaining all different demographics of people. Like I said, we cannot create a product for the general public without having teams which directly represent the society we live in.

InfoQ: How can we involve middle management and persuade them to play an active role in diversity and inclusion?

Atcheson: This is about allyship. It’s not a zero-sum game - a tech industry which actively supports and empowers underrepresented groups is a better industry for everyone, including those who do not consider themselves to be underrepresented.

Underrepresented groups are typically in mid-tier and junior roles. That means they are working every day with middle management (not executive level employees). To ensure they feel the full benefit of a D&I strategy, their managers must be directly engaged.

In the InfoQ article creating a more equal workplace Kate 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?

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

Atcheson: We need all levels of an organisation to be engaged in any diversity and inclusion strategy. We need those who the strategy does not directly affect to be engaged and want it to succeed - because they have the ability to become allies, provide visibility to underrepresented communities, give constructive criticism to aid underrepresented people grow and get to the next level, and ultimately, champion their work.

I regularly talk about privilege - namely my own. Whilst I exclusively identify as female and am a person of colour, I have a western-sounding name, was adopted at three weeks old from Sri Lanka, attended university and whilst my family was not wealthy, we were comfortable. That means I have a lot of privilege in my life and I am able to use it to amplify others around me - I want others with privilege to recognise that within themselves too. It’s incredibly eye-opening and powerful.

In the InfoQ article lending privilege for increasing diversity and inclusion Anjuan Simmons provided three ways to lend privilege:

  • Credibility lending: lending visibility to those less privileged, for instance by inviting someone to the next board meeting.
  • Access lending: an example is sending someone to a conference where you have access and can provide an entry to share their expertise.
  • Expertise lending: for example by appointing a person to be the lead of your next project.

In an earlier InfoQ interview, Peter Aitken provided suggestions for making our language and behaviour more inclusive:

Collectively, and individually, we need to better understand the hardships of people who have less privilege than ourselves. In terms of learning, follow people from backgrounds different from your own on social media and learn about their struggles.

We need to gain more awareness of when we are in the wrong and when we need to be introspective to work out:

  • Why is someone upset or offended by what we have said or done?
  • What could we do better in future?
  • How do we make amends?

We need to lift each other up by sharing our newfound understanding. By this action we visibly make it acceptable to demonstrate we each are an imperfect work-in-progress striving to improve.

InfoQ: What can people do to create a more inclusive environment?

Atcheson: Listen. Listen to what those around you are telling you. Get ready to be uncomfortable and know you’re not always right. Accept and adapt from that. Rework your thinking. I regularly check my language and behaviours - almost every day. And if I make a mistake, which I do as we are all human, I apologise, check myself and move on.

For specific actions, please see my session slide:

References:

One female on the board of a business can reduce the risk of bankruptcy by 20% - According to research from the Leeds University Business School (paywall) in It’s dumb not to fill your company’s board with women by Quartz.

When employees "think their organisation is committed to and supportive of diversity, and they feel included", innovation revenue increases by 83% - Taken from Waiter, is that inclusion in my soup? A new recipe to improve business performance by Deloitte Australia (Deloitte) and the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission.

Companies reporting above-average diversity on management teams reported 19% higher innovation revenue than those with below-average leadership diversity - From management team diversity linked to improved financial performance once more by Consultancy.uk.

Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity - 15% more likely to outperform competitors. Those in the top quartile for ethnic diversity - 35% more likely to outperform competitors - From why diversity matters by McKinsey.

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