Being Intentional About Diversity and Inclusion
31 March, 2021
This goes back to the time when I was a new manager. Back then, diversity was something we were aware of but weren't deliberate about it. We didn’t put any policies in place to ensure diversity or arranged training and practices to enhance our understanding of the value that diversity brings. We were an all-men engineering team that happened to hire the first woman engineer. We weren’t intentional about integrating her into the team.
We had a regular team activity - every Friday, we would get together as a team for team mixers. We would play Ping Pong or Foosball and have beers and whiskey to make the atmosphere more fun. I would typically gather up everyone who was not at the event already. I couldn’t help but notice that our new hire preferred to be at her desk working on Friday evening rather than joining the rest of the team.
I decided to bring this up with her. I asked her why she was reluctant to join our team activities. She told me that she didn’t find that particular event too welcoming. For the first time, that made me think about how drinks and games might be male-centric and how our unconscious bias influenced our choice of team activities.
Once I realized this, we quickly transformed the game room into a social gathering space. We started to introduce other activities, encouraged discussions between people, and had them socialize on a more personal level. Our activities became more engaging and participative and, gradually, more inclusive too. We changed the vibe of the event from a game room to a cocktail party with more focus on networking.
We put aside alcohol; it was not prohibited, but our activities didn’t revolve around it. We added coffee, tea, and some snacks and made it more welcoming for people who were not drinking and didn’t feel comfortable with the culture that revolves around drinking. The focus of the room changed from the Ping Pong and Foosball tables to mingling with each other. Moreover, I established a planning group responsible for facilitating activities, and I invited women engineers and people from underrepresented groups from different teams to join the group.
This incident prompted me to take a more careful look at all other events where we lacked representation from underrepresented groups. Hiring was one of the weakest spots, and I made sure that a diverse group of engineers were especially encouraged to be involved in hiring events. We also created networking opportunities for engineers to connect with other engineers across the organization and set up mentoring rings for this purpose.
All of those small actions contributed to our effort to act more intentionally about diversity and inclusion. It started with women but soon spread to other underrepresented groups too.
- You have to be deliberate about diversity. We live in a world that is still burdened with prejudices, and we frequently unconsciously replicate biased patterns of behavior in the workplace. We have to be intentional about diversity and inclusion if we want to embed it into our company culture.
- Your journey towards a more diverse team doesn't end by hiring people from underrepresented groups. This is the moment when inclusion should come into play. Frankly, we weren’t intentional about hiring a woman engineer; we merely happened to hire her. But we didn’t do anything following that to include her. Your inclusion efforts should start from the very day you hired a person from an underrepresented group. To further strengthen those efforts, we started encouraging women engineers to participate in the activity planning, hiring, mentoring, and all other activities critical to creating a welcoming and inclusive environment.
- Diversity attracts diversity. Our woman colleague was the first woman engineer on the team, but as soon as she started looping in and networking more, other women engineers expressed their interest in joining our team. Many women engineers thought they would be happier on our team because there were already some women on our team who would create a safe and inclusive setting.
- If you identified one inclusion gap in your organization, it might not be the only one. There is likely a structural problem, and more such gaps will appear as you become more intentional about diversity and inclusion. Don’t stop at fixing that one instance. Methodically look for other blind spots and work meticulously to remove them. Team activities were that one instance that helped us identify a gap, but we did not stop there.
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