Challenging Culture Fit: Disrupting Business as Usual
SheSyndicate recently hosted a panel of experts to discuss justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) within the tech industry, with insights and suggestions for what leaders and founders need to know. The discussion was organized and moderated by Women in Tech Working Group leader Grace Kohn.
Our guest speakers included:
- Pamela Soberman, leader of diversity, equity and inclusion at Sidewalk Labs
- Tori Bell, founder of Black Women at Facebook Employee Resource Group
- Genevieve Smith of GV Consultancy
- Vicky Lay, head of Impact Investing at Artesian Venture Partners, and Founder of SheSyndicate
The discussion centered around how companies in the tech industry can proactively shift practices, processes, staff, and outcomes toward greater equity and inclusion. Just as importantly, the group discussed the imperative to use data collection and analysis to hold themselves and the industry accountable--to ensure that JEDI efforts do not stop at intention, but indeed result in tangible, measurable outcomes.
Defining Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
“DEI is a practice, not a destination,” Soberman says in regards to how founders and leaders should think about their learning, processes, analysis, and goal-setting. “This is an act of practice that you have to make every day individually.”
Soberman began with defining these often-used words. The foundation of DEI is equity. It requires understanding that we all live and work in a society that is deeply flawed due to systemic racism, sexism, and prejudice. Inclusion can best be described as a consistent feeling of being engaged and valued from the perception of employees. Diversity is a balanced representation of historically underrepresented and disadvantaged groups.
In order to change the workplace and make progress in all three of these areas, we have to understand that they’re all connected and should be discussed both together and separate because they influence every part of an employee’s lifecycle and a corporation’s operations.
Data, Data, and More Data
Transparency in data--how it’s collected, what’s being measured and what those impact metrics are saying--was a reinforced theme throughout the panel discussion. Nearly every expert emphasized the foundational importance of data to drive decision-making and push toward JEDI with sincerity. It is what moves companies from ‘intention’ to actual ‘impact.’ And even better, there can be an extra ecosystem pressure and ripple effect of accountability when this data is transparent and made public throughout an industry.
Intentionally Create Spaces for Unheard Voices
While employee resource groups are not a new idea, many existing ones don’t incorporate intersectionality of different experiences. The panel discussed experiences in elevating diverse viewpoints and creating supportive peer networks. As Bell remarked, “Leadership owns DEI; however, peer support is critical.”
Often this is difficult for companies because it means acknowledging that there are “known unknowns.” Problems might exist that haven’t emerged at the executive level because there are no Latinx women on the leadership team. The lack of a space for LGBTQ employees to talk about their experiences could result, even without malicious intent, in their perspectives being silenced and considerations not heard.
Bell shared one example from Facebook, where the Employee Resource Group for Black Women used listening tours to identify the biggest problems at the company. “We discovered that while, on average, it takes an employee maybe a year or two to be promoted, Black women at Facebook were getting promoted at three years and later. This helped us outline a fair and equitable promotion process. We also created a coaching and mentoring company from that experience.”
The panelists discussed the importance of being able to stratify data by identifiers to understand a fuller picture of the employees’ experiences, and to assure that the majority racial voices do not dominate even in anonymous surveys. For example, it is in and of itself telling if you have a sample size of only N=5 Latinx voices in your survey, out of 100 respondents. It’s important not only to be able to intentionally consider what those 5 Latinx voices are saying, but also to acknowledge that N=5 is itself a reflection of your corporate JEDI baseline.
The underlying goal should be to make processes (and most importantly, their outcomes) more equitable for all. Elevating voices and using savvy data, then, to hold ourselves and others accountable to those goals and progress.
Don’t Box JEDI into One Department
The panel discussion explored how a commitment to JEDI should permeate a company to really harness the opportunities for impact. They’re not just the subject of an annual review or a topic that “belongs” to HR.
“Values go into deep process, too. It’s about getting into these issues and looking at where values are or are not showing up,” Smith explained. “All too often leadership doesn’t think about the obvious things that really are levers for change.”
How these values are made visible in everyday activities, in leadership, and in every team member influences the entire organization. It’s an ongoing commitment to continually dig for new opportunities that can be harnessed to push toward equity--consider supply chains, processes, human resource practices, standards, objectives, cultural language, etc. Soberman added the need for the process to be employee-driven, systemic in approach, accountability of leadership, and JEDI infused into the business model. Smith continued, “You’ve got to move beyond the workplace, to incorporate the full business model. End to end.”
Discuss Values & Make Them Tangible
It’s important for companies to define their values, but also, talk about what that means in practice. Bell encouraged founders to steer away from high-level, lofty values, and instead to get into on-the-ground, ‘regular’ language: “What does that look like at this company? And do we infuse those values into our interviews, client outreach, and everyday conversations?” Smith also emphasized being conscious about how our values play out in all of our micro and macro daily and organizational decisions.
The more comfortable leaders and employees are talking about our values--frequently, conversationally, tangibly--the more those values are likely to be upheld in the workplace, practices, supply chains, and in the people attracted to that company.
Lean into Discomfort
Everyone deserves the experience of feeling comfortable at work. But one reason that people and companies avoid taking a strong stance or leaning into JEDI organizational reflections is often discomfort--something in which minority culture groups are, unfortunately, well versed. If a CEO feels uncomfortable having these conversations or that the outcome data shows that the organization is far from hitting its JEDI goals, can you imagine how disenfranchised employees may feel at the company, possibly every day? Soberman noted that “moments of majority culture discomfort are in reality incredible opportunities to build empathy [for marginalized groups] and resilience.”
The panelists discussed the power of “learning in public” and having compassion for everyone on a continued JEDI learning journey. Lay encouraged leaders to lean into “the vulnerability of saying ‘I don’t know’ and the courage to acknowledge ‘we did it wrong.’” Bell punctuated that “Compassion isn’t endorsement [of someone’s misstep], and accountability isn’t policing either.” There is a need for both--human compassion AND accountability to shift the tech industry toward more diversity and inclusion.
Lastly, the panelists left the audience with a clear call to action: “Everyone has a lever.”
What’s yours? Let’s go find it--together, backed by data, with courage and empathy.