Last month I was fortunate to attend Refactr.Tech, a full-stack developer conference for diversity, inclusion, and technology held in Atlanta, Georgia.
There were enough women in attendance to rival the number of men – a rarity in the world of technology. (For perhaps the first time in my life, I was excited to have to wait in line for the bathroom.) After three days of career, tech, and thought leadership, I left feeling absolutely inspired.
Without a doubt, the most impactful thing I learned was how easy it can be to start driving change within your organization. While company funded events and initiatives are a part of that transformation, noticeable change starts with each individual committing to being a better version of themselves, and exhibiting those inclusive behaviors each day.
Here are my six takeaways from the conference, all centered around the value and ease of realizing diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the workplace. I hope they inspire you to include new perspectives and make simple changes in your day-to-day, as the conference did for me.
1. Diversity is the who, inclusion is the how.
Diversity in the workplace is fairly straightforward. For diversity, you aim for representation of a multitude of races, genders, nationalities, sexual orientations and perspectives.
Inclusion is a little more complex — but it’s a critical enabler of a truly diverse workplace. Inclusion is the feeling of belonging because of who you are — not despite it. An inclusive environment is one that welcomes and encourages all types of people and perspectives. Through inclusivity, diversity can flourish. Underrepresented groups want to work where they know they can grow and succeed. By becoming a company known for its inclusivity, diversity becomes less of a quota and metrics game. Instead, it becomes a defining feature of your company’s culture and reputation.
2. Diversity and inclusion can help the company financially succeed.
Organizations with a mature culture of diversity and inclusion foster a stronger sense of belonging among all employees, resulting in a healthier, more engaged and productive workforce. Research has also demonstrated that such gains are accompanied by correlated increases in creativity and innovation among teams composed of people representing a broader, more diverse range of experiences and perspectives.
3. It’s all in the little things.
We’re all sometimes guilty of unintentional biases and we should work to become more aware of them. Understanding our own biases and prejudices starts the process of enacting small, impactful changes. Here are a few simple ideas on how to promote a more inclusive environment:
- Speak out against microaggressions
- Say a woman’s name instead of “she” or “her”
- When giving feedback or a review, ask yourself, “Would I write the same thing about [someone of a different gender, race, or age]?”
- Extend your privilege.
But most importantly, start talking about diversity and inclusion.
4. Mentorship and D&I go hand in hand.
Inclusion doesn’t apply only to people of all genders and races, but people of all ages and experience levels as well. Inclusive culture is vital for new employees that are unfamiliar with the company, especially ones that start in a junior position. It’s easy to get impatient when a junior employee doesn’t succeed.
But why don’t they? And how can we help fix it?
- Poor onboarding docs – Not having detailed instructions can lead to the first few days consisting of a multitude of clarifying questions. This frustrates everyone and sets working relationships off on the wrong foot. Writing more complete onboarding documents facilitates the junior employee feeling successful from the start and helps avoid exasperation from all involved.
- Reliance on immediate excellence – Expecting a junior employee to be outstanding from day one does not always lead to best performance. Take the time to learn each employee’s skill level and challenge/mentor them accordingly. If they are supported from the start, they will quickly grow to be a better performer in an encouraging environment
- No review or mentorship – Reviews are an important learning tool, and juniors will not succeed if they stay perpetually junior and do not receive feedback. Ensure they have mentors who challenge and guide them to individual growth and achievement.
- Not everyone wants to mentor – Sometimes more experienced employees may be reluctant to mentor new hires. This doesn’t make the more tenured individual a bad employee; instead, acknowledge that they should not be placed in a position where they’re expected to spend their time teaching. Identify these individuals early and place them in teams where they can contribute most effectively. Not everyone has to serve as a mentor and knowing where people’s passions lie is vital to personal and team success.
5. Leadership is not the same as management.
Part of inclusion is allowing everyone to feel like they can be a leader within the company. To do this, it is important to understand the difference between leaders and managers, as both are necessary to create a successful company.
Managers maintain the status quo. Leaders bring new ideas and forward momentum.
Managers handle the day to day and ensure that their team is moving towards their goals.
Leaders innovate and help change the direction of the team when needed.
Managers need the skills necessary to successfully help their team accomplish goals. In contrast, a leader can be anyone with an innovative idea. It’s up to the managers to facilitate and encourage that leadership. When we understand that a position of authority is not required for the next great idea, we provide our employees with the tools for success. And the first step is to foster an environment where these ideas are not only heard but welcomed.
6. Everyone should have a Personal Operating Manual (POM).
Inclusivity is promoted and facilitated through understanding. One new method of promoting understanding within teams is a Personal Operating Manual, a one-pager for your team that details your work style. It informs them on how to best interact and collaborate with you. It communicates your interesting work habits, your pet peeves, your feedback or praise preferences, and anything else that will help the team start working better together.
You can get started making yours here.
Overall, it’s time to make inclusivity a more primary focus day-to-day. Start the conversation. Make small changes. Spread the word. If we all do this, diversity will come naturally.