This is the first part of post series on inclusion.
Diversity is understood better in the tech world these days. It’s something that companies target to reach, even if some do it more for marketing purposes. Some may see it more as an attractive feature to be considered a good employer, while others also embrace the fact that diverse teams can build high-quality products which are more thought-through, and inclusive. And exactly inclusion is usually going hand in hand with diversity when we talk about it.
Years back I did not fully understand why inclusion was mentioned together with diversity so often. Isn’t inclusion’s presence straight-forward? Only after some years of work experience and facing the pain myself I am now demanding more discussions about inclusion and how to improve that rather than talk only about diversity. Diversity is one thing - you may hire various diverse, amazing professionals, but how do you make them stay? How do you balance the inclusion so that everyone feels happy within the team? This is exactly what I want to tackle in Inclusion matters series, but let’s begin with the first part of the equation - diversity.
Thinking of diversity & inclusion stories I remember one told by Ellen Pao in her book “Reset: My Fight for Inclusion and Lasting Change”. In the early days of Reddit, it was very much a company full of enthusiasts of Reddit. Employees loved it the way it was, so when a newcomer suggested supporting mobile (this was right before mobile was a must for a website to support), there were loads of resistance. People liked their product the way it was. The desktop version was enough, so why bother with a mobile one if nobody is going to use it? After a lot of fighting for mobile, the author managed to convince others to support mobile, and it definitely paid off. This is just one tiny example of how someone who is different than others in their ideas can make a huge difference.
Sometimes being stuck to our role, people similar to us - we may struggle with different ideas or people. It takes quite some effort to accept differences, but it’s definitely worth it: diversity drives experiments, innovation, and progress.
In my career, I witnessed multiple times where diverse teams had very steep learning curves and had a great delivery time. Also, I have seen how sometimes hiring for a “culture fit” ended up hiring (and expecting) people with the same ideas, and the environment, in that case, would be very much in the comfort zone and… not change much. What kind of business wants to be stuck? We need to experiment if we want to keep up with change. For that - we need different kinds of ideas on the table.
However, diversity alone won’t solve the problem. Imagine being the one black sheep in the team who thinks something should be implemented while all others disagree. You may be a fighter, but just imagine trying over and over again to make your point. Imagine not feeling respected or included as much as some other people in your team, especially those who may repeat the very same points but their voices would be heard. Why do you have to overcompensate in that situation and try to convince people to believe you? This is especially common and painful in situations where not only your thoughts are excluded, but the effect of your looks or the way you are.
This can seem foreign to some. However, it’s exactly this feeling of exclusion that can make the greatest professionals leave their work. What is more, it actually can diminish the potential of great professionals and demotivate others.
In the next post in the series, I’ll share some stories, and introduce some of the most common inclusion problems.