My team and I recently had the chance to work with our partners at Microsoft to host an event centered around diversity and inclusion in the workplace. For this event, we wanted to create content specifically around tactics to improve diversity and inclusion across the employee journey, from the hiring process; to nurturing and retaining top talent, growing team members internally and community outreach.
The event was artfully moderated by Mona Kothari-Chitalia who was joined by panelists :
- Rekha Rao-Mayya, Microsoft
- Wendy Cukier, Professor of Entrepreneurship and Strategy, and Founder and Academic Director of the Diversity Institute at Ryerson University
- Janine Tamboli, D&I Lead, Maple Leaf Foods
- Jay Goldman, our Co-Founder & CEO here at Sensei Labs
I strongly believe Diversity and Inclusion isn’t something you truly arrive at. It’s is a continual journey of exploration and broadening your team’s understanding and appreciation for the experiences and perspectives of others. A productive diversity and inclusion strategy is built on strong cultural values that foster the right frame of mind within your organization. As Mona mentioned, diversity is complicated. Human behavior and unconscious bias are very difficult things to change. Hiring people who are already practicing this awareness in their own lives is the backbone of how we’ve started our own D&I journey.
I wanted to share a couple of “ah-ha” moments I had during the event. Hopefully this inspires interesting conversations within your own teams’.
Janine Tamboli talked about her journey to helping team members in organizations identify a common definition of what diversity means. She found that diversity meant something different across the groups that she spoke with. Diversity isn’t just exclusive to ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and ability. According to the Canadian Center for Diversity and Inclusion, their definition states “D&I is about capturing the uniqueness of the individual; creating an environment that values and respects individuals for their talents, skills and abilities to the benefit of the collective.” So diversity also includes folks who have different working and communication styles, team members who need flexible hours for family situations, introverts, extroverts, etc. You want your team to embrace the same D&I mandate so that you can create goals and metrics to accomplish that throughout your organization.
Wendy Cukier sparked interesting conversations around “rhetoric vs. reality”. Essentially, she recommends that your D&I mandate matches your everyday employee experience. For example, if a team …
- Says they promote work life balance, how transparent are their work from home guidelines? Do you even have one?
- Promotes “checking out” from work when on vacation , are their managers demonstrating this through their own actions?
- Wants to promote diversity within their craft, are they empowering their own team to voice their opinions so talent acquisition and hiring managers know where to improve? Have diversity metrics been incorporated into the candidate pipeline strategy?
Setting the right tone from the top also key in shaping experience. It’s so important for senior leadership to embrace the steps a company has taken to become more diverse and inclusive. The behaviors of your leadership team have influence over corporate culture than a mandate written on a wall. This is why Rekha emphasizes the importance of having performance targets in place throughout the year for senior leadership in order to treat D&I goals as a priority for the business. Janine also encouraged creating learning and development programs for hiring managers to promote and coach them on how to create an inclusive workspace for all.
Janine also emphasized the importance of thinking about your team cross functionally when looking at promotions. She suggested that developed plans and check-in’s for cross functional transfers and promotions should be supported throughout your HR team and leadership. Involving leadership can also be a powerful tool to encourage this practice and communicating the importance of it throughout your organization. Thinking cross functionally about promotions helps encourage continuous growth across your team. Your teammates will feel like they don’t need to see growth only within the context of their own team, but instead throughout the organization. One of the biggest reasons I hear candidates considering a change from their current role is because they can’t see any more growth for themselves in their current team. Imagine how fostering cross functional growth will help with retention and engagement! This strategy also helps with practicing knowledge sharing across different teams. Knowledge sharing allows folks of unique experiences into different teams to give those teams a new advantage and unique edge. I have seen this happen throughout my career and it’s always led to great retention of team mates and ultimately a stronger team because that person is better versed with different facets of the business.
Wendy Cukier spoke about rethinking qualifications for tech roles by encouraging hiring managers to think ‘outside the box’ about the talent they need for their role. For instance, many organizations used to think developers would need to be evaluated solely for their coding skills and that a computer science degree would be an absolute prerequisite. However, we ‘re finding more and more qualified candidates for roles in tech come from multi-disciplinary background in the arts, humanities, etc. At Sensei Labs, our technical team is always iterating our own process for technical assessments so that we’re qualifying candidates who have different learning styles. We usually leverage these conversations based on our pass/fail metrics and how we can improve.
Diversity and Inclusion is an ongoing journey and not just something you’re going to figure out in a day. I believe that by having an overall awareness and constantly educating ourselves and expanding the breadth of viewpoints we receive from different people, we’ll continue to move closer to a more inclusive workspace for all. As our CEO, Jay mentioned during the panel discussion, “We have customers in all continents and therefore we build products for different types of people. If we don’t have diversity of thought within our teams, how are we supposed to build a product that works for everyone?”