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InfoQ Homepage News DevOps Enterprise Summit London 2020: a Diversity and Inclusion Q&A with Shaaron A Alvares

DevOps Enterprise Summit London 2020: a Diversity and Inclusion Q&A with Shaaron A Alvares

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Shaaron A Alvares gave a talk at DevOps Enterprise Summit 2020 London Virtual titled 'Accelerate Your DevOps Culture of Innovation with Everyday Inclusion and Belonging'. She began with presenting research data from LinkedIn on the benefits of diverse teams, showing that diverse teams outperform their peers by 80%.

The data Alvares shared suggested that by preventing group thinking, more unlikely ideas come to light and that diverse organisations have an advantage in attracting and retaining high performers. She highlighted that the Accelerate State of DevOps Reports have shown there is a diversity gap in DevOps, also recognised by Bridget Arthur and Clayton Hynfield of Pivotal in their previous talk 'A Crisis of Diversity and Inclusion in DevOps', however, she stated her optimism that there is opportunity to change this with the hiring horizon, particularly since it is suggested that diversity attracts diversity.

Alvares showed that diversity alone doesn't drive innovation, but presented an equation where combining team psychological safety, inclusive collaboration, managers' inclusiveness and practice of equity drove innovation. She also shared a team practice to drive inclusion called the Team Inclusive Collaboration self-check. Using an agile retrospective 3-step model (gather data, generate insights and then take action), the team identifies inclusive collaborative behaviours and tactics that they work on everyday and assess at the end of every sprint to become a more inclusive and safe team.

She also proposed some best practices to be used including allowing teams to define their own values based on their own experiences, moving away from traits but focusing on actionable tactics, sharing challenges with leadership and asking managers to support the work by allocating time specifically to it. InfoQ asked Alvares about her talk and experiences:

InfoQ: What's the difference between diversity and inclusion?

Shaaron A Alvares: Diversity and inclusion are two very different things. Diversity refers to traits and characteristics, such as age, gender, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, education, national origin, family and cultural background and upbringing that make people so different and unique.

Diversity in the workplace aims to create a representation of the world where diverse groups and people co-exist together. Unfortunately, most organisations have been focusing in the last fifteen years on hiring diversity only to meet HR compliance objectives, and neglected to fully include their diverse employees and provide them with the same opportunities and inclusive environment as their non-diverse workforce.

For many organisations, diversity stopped at diversity and became a quota program or a marketing campaign to look good and make 'best company to work for' lists. Even though the relationship between diversity, inclusion and innovation is known and has been supported by research and data for the last fifteen years, it is only more recently that organisations really started focusing on diversity inclusion.

Verna Myers, VP of inclusion strategy at Netflix, says: "Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance." I challenge this quote and say instead: "Inclusion is to invite our diversity to design the party." Today, inclusion is taking a new turn because it is focused on giving diversity an equal seat and voice at the table. We are moving past the 'belonging' maturity phase, and we are now quickly progressing towards understanding and fostering equity. I think we still have a long way to go, but we are on our way.

InfoQ: How do you think individuals and teams would benefit from neuroscience training, particularly around cognitive load and bias, with the goal of improving inclusivity?

Alvares: I think there are valuable opportunities in this area but unfortunately they are not yet well exploited or even known by organisations. We focus on organisational symptoms and apply 'band-aids' rather than focusing on understanding the deeper root causes of bias and impact of fear and negative emotions.

Brain studies and neuroscience are critical to understanding how we interact with each other and how we can better appreciate and work within a cognitively diverse organisation. Employees who are not in a psychologically safe workplace are less likely to be able to be creative and productive. There's a biological reason for this; the brain actually shuts down when it's in 'fight or flight' mode.

As the data collected by Google has shown in the last fifteen years, neuro-safety enhances inclusion, productivity, performance and innovation at work. Yet there isn't enough training or awareness campaigns at the workplace on psychological safety or conscious and unconscious biases.

InfoQ: What examples of actionable tactics can you provide that improve inclusivity?

Alvares: One example of a behaviour teams can apply in their day to day work to actualise inclusion is to educate teams about how bias and unconscious bias work. Without that awareness and understanding it is difficult to question our own assumptions, biases and behaviours. Another is to educate teams and organisations on psychological safety and the negative impact of exclusion, rejection, inequality and fear; and on the impact of all of these negative emotions on team performance, innovation, talent retention. Studies have also shown that diverse talents are most likely to leave their organisations when they don't feel welcomed and fully included.

Additionally, people should work on understanding microaggressions. I recommend keeping lists of microaggressions to foster awareness of these and better address these when they happen. They should also identify tactical actions and behaviours we can take consciously to drive safety and inclusiveness, such as checking our assumptions and asking ourselves questions when we have strong reactions to people.

Looking inside ourselves and at our own differences can be a great exercise to develop a more acute understanding of our potential bias. In my presentation I shared three questions that can help do this. One: Could I be wrong in my perception of the situation? Two: What do I know about myself that may have triggered this reaction? Three: In what other ways could I respond to this person or situation?

InfoQ: Why should all hiring decisions be a peer, team-driven activity, in your opinion?

Alvares: I wrote an article about how the Agile Business Consortium leveraged agility to hire their chief executive, and where I showed that they involved the entire organisation in the hiring and decision making process. It is still a very uncommon hiring process, but it is known to be very rewarding for the candidates and to lead to better long-term decisions. There are unspoken criteria that influence hiring decisions, such as competition, ego, influence, control, internal politics.

Therefore, including the team to hire a new team member can greatly contribute to eliminating these pitfalls. It is extremely empowering for the team and it creates a greater sense of engagement and buy-in into the decision. For leaders and managers, it prevents group-thinking and hiring people who would fit within the current culture.

InfoQ: What is the 'Inclusion Bar Raiser' you suggest organisations adopt?

Alvares: The research has shown that recruiters and hiring managers source and hire candidates in their image and that unconscious bias plays an important negative role in the vast majority of hiring decisions. We now track unconscious bias in the way job descriptions are written.

Amazon implemented a 'Bar Raiser' around a decade ago, which consists of adding an employee external to the group and the team into the interview process. These employee Bar Raisers are trained to focus on long-term leadership values and behaviours. While their program is not focused on inclusion, my suggestion is to develop a similar program focused on Inclusion Bar Raiser to ensure that managers and teams don't hire for culture-fit but rather for culture-add and innovation. A neutral third-party employee helps keep assumption, group-thinking and unconscious bias in check.

InfoQ: Are there any ways to automate the model you shared to improve inclusivity?

Alvares: I wrote an article, 'Boosting Team Inclusion at the Workplace Using Artificial Intelligence Technologies', based on Gartner research. Today, new artificial intelligence and behaviour-analysis-powered applications are available to boost deliberate and true inclusion across teams' cultural, people and process disciplines. We can leverage these technologies in three areas that can help raise inclusion awareness and outcomes: screening inclusive-ready candidates, assessing and improving teams' inclusion behaviours and training team leaders.

Access Alvares' slides from her DevOps Enterprise Summit London 2020 talk here.

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