How can I get a diverse and inclusive team?

Diverse group of people
Does your team reflect the society?

TL;DR: Ok, there is a video on gvSIG Festival on diversity that cover most of the contents here.

Why do we need inclusivity and diversity?

Do we really need to explain the problem of diversity? IT is mainly white and male. Even the most egalitarian person have biases due to have lived on a non egalitarian world and this reflects on our community. There are also society pressure to some groups of persons not to work on IT.

“True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.”

Martin Luther King

In short, diversity should just be a matter of Social Justice.

But if you are looking for more purely economical reasons, recent studies have shown that diverse teams are more efficient and provide more quality outputs [1][2]. This means that even when a company invest explicitly on improve their inclusivity and diversity, the return of investment is usually high. Investing in diversity is a win win situation, but it requires some deconstruction and some effort from all the people involved.

On this article, I am going to focus on women and the gender gap because that’s the issue I am most familiar with. Also, because as half the population everywhere is female, it is an easy aspect to quantify. But all content here can be extrapolated to any other under-represented group. Just extrapolate statistics and adapt numbers, when applies.

We know that the origin of the problem is probably not on your side: if fewer women study IT, how can half of your team be a women? But there are many things you can do to help leverage the issue.

The Warning Signs

Always check demographical status of your team. Are they all similar? Do they have the same backgrounds, same culture, same religion? Do they even have similar hobbies and family configuration? That’s suspicious. Society is not heterogeneous, and so shouldn’t your team be.

“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor, it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

Martin Luther King

Compare your team with the society outside your team. Do demographics match? More than half of the population are women, are more than half of your team women? I bet it isn’t.

Group of people with high diversity
Does your team reflect the society? – #WOCInTech

Or maybe you have diversity on your team, but it is not stable: the persons that bring diversity to the team don’t stay long, you cannot retain their talent. That’s a huge sign that your environment is not comfortable for them, that they don’t feel part of the team.

A person is not diverse. Don’t tokenize.

Notice I said persons that bring diversity to your team and not “diverse person”. A person is not diverse. I am not diverse. I can bring diversity to a team that is different from me. Don’t tokenize. Don’t take that single person that is different from you and claim you are inclusive because you are friends.

Key Indicators for Diversity

One of the things you should do to increase diversity is define some key indicators to measure and quantify diversity. This can help you address the issue more easily and can help others know if your team is a safe space.

Don’t be shy showing your data. We know all companies have bad data at the start, what we are interested it is on the evolution of those numbers.

What to avoid

Don’t be like those companies that claimed that their diversity statistics were a “threat to competition” and “trade secrets”. That if they published their women employees they would be “stolen”.

First because that’s embarrassingly not true. And second because if you really fear your competitors may “steal” your employees, maybe you should offer them better deals. Employees may leave because they don’t feel safe on your team or because they don’t feel valued. Value them, make them feel safe.

Once you decide to publish your figures, don’t manipulate them.

Don’t be like that other company that has some pending trials accusing them for paying less to women. So their marketing team just published some statistics with a narrow cherry-picked analysis that has been widely published on media that claim that women are, in fact getting more bonuses than men.

Cherry-picking bonuses instead of checking the total salary and taking all variables into account. What accusations say is that they always offered women lower positions than what they should be offered according to their experience tables. As those positions have lower salaries, they also offered a bonus to compensate. Which means, women were mistreated: they were positioned on lower levels and compensated with bonuses to get the same salary as their male counterparts with no bonuses.

But hey, there is no gender gap because if you cherry pick the bonus data, women have high bonuses. Right?

So, not only women were losing the benefits associated to the level they belong. They were also not offered those extra bonuses their males were offered above the salary they were assigned.

Key Indicators for companies

The follow table is an example of a Key Indicator for gender gap. You can extrapolate to other under-represented groups based on the demographic statistics of the society around you.

Size of your companyWarning signs
Small (less than 20 employees)You have no women in your team
OR
You have only one woman (token)
MediumYou have less than 30% women
Big (more than 100 employees)You have less than 40% women

There are tools that can help you detect your gaps.

When doing this calculations, consider only your IT department. Hiring women on other departments (administration, cleaning, HR,…) is helpful but is not addressing the problem of the lack of women on IT. It only masks the problem.

The chosen percentages are different depending on the size of the company because the bigger the company is, the more they can invest on diversity.

Define different indicators, try to view the problem with different perspectives and approaches. Check not only that you have a good percentage of women, check also that they are evenly distributed among different levels. Are they all junior? Are they full or part time employees?

Now that we have measured the problem, what can we do about it?

You have to invest on diversity

Improving diversity and inclusivity on your team is not just a matter of good will. You have to invest time and resources to get it done right. To begin with, companies should train their personnel departments to know how to handle it. There are strategies on how to write and publish job offers, how to plan the interviews and how to follow up once you hire someone.

For smaller companies that have no HR/Personnel department, you should ask for advice to experts to know how to improve your processes. The cheapest strategy would be to look for resources yourself, but that will never be as effective as talking to some expert and getting an audit.

If you are an open source project or a not for profit community, you may not have money for training or hiring someone. You can then fallback to some fellow organization and ask for advice there, we can help you at least pointing to the biggest issues. But don’t forget that this comes with a cost, and free does not mean gratis. There should be some symbiotic relationship there to ensure sustainability.

Some tips on Closing the Gap

While you get some advice on your particular problem, here is a basic list of questions that can help you start brainstorming about how to improve the inclusivity in your team:

Women of Color working
Closing the gap – #WOCInTech

Do you have a Code of Conduct?

This is the first thing to check. Make sure there are clear red lines on what is an acceptable behaviour and what is not.

There are many codes you can use as baseline. Take your time to select one that applies better to your use case.

Make sure all your team have read and understood the full code. If some member of your team disagrees with your guidelines, make sure you talk about their disagreement.

On the best case, this Code of Conduct (CoC) is already being followed on your team and it is redundant and there will never be a report. But without a CoC, it may be that some people are creating a toxic atmosphere without even knowing it.

Do you have a safe workflow in case of problems?

Having a CoC is not enough if you can’t report problems. Always make sure that there is a clear, transparent and safe workflow for reporting incidents. As a base line, the consequences of reporting an issue can’t be worse than the issue itself. Protect the personal details of the reporters and make sure they are protected. Protect both parties of the incident and make sure all reports are taken seriously.

Do you have a Diversity Strategy Plan?

Define some goals and deadlines. Define how you want to achieve them. Assign resources to those goals.

You don’t have to be too ambitious, just make sure you make improvements. And if your strategy does not work, this plan can help you detect that, so you can sit again to define a new plan.

The speed on which you improve the diversity is not as important as making sure improvements are made. Shortcuts can lead to worse situations.

When hiring

Go remote! Allowing flexibility will help you increment the pool of candidates to choose from. This is special for physically-challenged persons, family conciliation and similar situations where going to an office is not as simple as it looks like.

Use always inclusive language. Specially on job offers: they are your showcase to all possible candidates and you want to be as friendly and inclusive as you can. There are many tools you can use to check about your language. In time, inclusive language will come naturally to you, but until then, don’t hesitate and use them.

There are strategies to follow on job offers to make them more appealing. Following the MoSCoW method to define requirements of the job, adding a salary range, linking to your Diversity Plan and your CoC and, as said, use inclusive language.

On a similar candidate, hire the woman. And no, this is no discrimination against men, this is only compensating the already existing bias: There are many independent studies with different approaches that proves we have unconscious bias that make us evaluate better men than women (and white people better than people of colour). So when you look at two candidates that you evaluate as similar, you have to “un-bias”. Consider if there may be any prejudgements you are making without knowing.

Make sure the team is safe BEFORE hiring

You feel ready to improve diversity on your team. So you open a job offer with inclusive language and look very carefully the CVs received to choose someone different that will improve diversity on your team.

Stop there. No matter how tempting it is, don’t start by hiring a junior. That frequently leads to isolation.

There are many reasons why your team is not diverse. Are you sure you solved all of those problems already? Is your team ready? You don’t want to introduce an inexperienced junior on a team that is not used to diversity. Really, you don’t want that.

Instead, you can invest a bit more and start by hiring a pair: a senior and a junior. The senior already knows the industry and knows what to expect. And she can mentor the junior so she doesn’t feel so lonely. Make sure they are a good match and can work together successfully.

Two women working
Hire by pairs – #WOCInTech

Don’t start by hiring a junior woman. Better by pairs: senior and junior

You may think this strategy is not what your company will benefit most. But remember again: the ROI of diversity is high. Even if you don’t really care if the women in your team are comfortable and want to stay, you want them to, because it is profitable for you.

Make sure the evolution is fair

Don’t push women to management, commercial or administrative tracks (unless they ask for it). It is very common to force women to pursue less technical tasks, something men don’t usually experience. Make sure you don’t have this bias and sponsor women on the IT track. If they survived to be on IT, it is because they want to be on IT.

Retain the talent by being fair.

Compare the evolution with the rest of your employees. Are you giving raises to everyone? Don’t forget to add some indicators here, make sure you don’t force women to jump to another company to advance. Retain the talent by making sure you are being fair.

Do you have former women employees? Ask for feedback! They have been there, they experienced it, they are the ones that know why you are leaking diversity.

Give voice to the under-represented

When you do an extra effort to give voice to the under-represented , you not only help them on their careers, you also normalize their presence and get the rest of the team used to consider them as equals.

On meetings, make sure everyone say at least something. When going to events, make sure everyone has a chance to present something. When making decisions, make sure everyone have a vote.

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