Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) is everyone’s responsibility. Creating an open, flexible work environment is good for everyone, not solely women and under-represented minorities. In this article, I’ll discuss the three principles that can help organizations develop a more intentional DEI strategy.
In the face of a global talent shortage, and with reports COVID-19 has set gender roles back by decades, there are no excuses for ignoring the value diversity brings to your business. Years of systemic and individual biases, complicated by changing socioeconomic forces, have now elevated DEI strategies to become mission-critical. And we are seeing increased understanding globally of the nuanced thinking this requires.
In the tech sector, this means radically challenging some norms. A rigid stereotype of what it takes to be a ‘good’ software developer may be holding you back from tapping into a rich source of talent. I have experienced this first-hand: some less diverse organizations subconsciously believe hiring people who look like me, will somehow ‘lower the bar’. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
At Thoughtworks, we have been on a positive journey of change since establishing a global 50% female and under-represented gender minorities entry-level hire goal in 2011. And while we are proud of all we have achieved so far, we recognize there is still more work to be done.
In Australia, Thoughtworks has been awarded a WGEA Employer of Choice for Gender Equality (EOCGE) citation nine years running, which is testament to our consistent dedication across the business. We are now making strides to identify other areas of focus for diversity. For example, we spent most of 2020 launching a First Nations Delivery Centre – a fully-remote, distributed development team staffed at least 50% with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander technologists, that aims to create an inclusive environment to begin and grow new tech careers. We are also working to understand what disability inclusion looks like, when many disabilities are invisible.
Through this experience, we’ve defined three core principles to ensure we can continue to foster our diverse community and create a workplace where everyone can thrive.
1. Be intentional in every action
Clear targets keep our leadership team and DEI council accountable, and force us to look for talent where we may not have looked before. At a global level, we are targeting 40% of tech roles for women and under-represented gender minorities by 2022 – and we are already at 38%. In Australia, our ‘north star’ is 50% for women and under-represented gender minorities. These targets translate into being very intentional about who we bring on board when we hire, and just as importantly, ensure we can help those people advance their career journeys once they come on board.
It’s one thing to bring in diverse talent: another to support them once they have joined. Too often, we hear organizations report winning amazing female tech hires, then losing them in three to six months. That’s not just due to market forces, it can also point to a lack of additional support structures or deliberate inclusion policies. When we hire women and underrepresented gender minorities, we make sure they have the mentorship and support they need to further progress their careers – such as our mentorship program which cultivates growth journeys for all Thoughtworkers.
We are also becoming more intentional with our internship opportunities for under-represented groups. For example, in Australia we partner with CareerTrackers to give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander interns an opportunity to kickstart their career in technology.
2. Continually challenge bias
Unconscious bias is human nature. It’s part of how we are raised, and all the experiences that shape our lives. It takes constant work to recognize it at work and in your everyday life and find bias countering strategies. Whenever we run unconscious bias training for new hires during induction, people are often surprised to realize that unconscious bias is everywhere and we can be biased without intending to. I’m always happy to see their openness to take steps within their own circle of influence to change the narrative.
One strategy is to overtly recognize the courage and resilience it takes for under-represented minorities just to get here. The obstacles they have overcome to prove themselves have shaped valuable behaviours for an agile work environment. Another is to ensure there are diverse perspectives during the interview process by encouraging two or more people to interview candidates. If one or two of those people can speak to the experiences of being indigenous, LGBTQ+, BIPOC, non-White, non-male, disabled, non-straight people, so much the better.
It's also important to show an absolute intolerance for intolerance – including letting star performers go if their behaviour is unacceptable.
Our ‘Joy of interviewing’ approach which started as a global recruitment change program is the foundation of how we approach candidate selection at Thoughtworks Australia via attribute based hiring. We want our hiring process to stay unique. We constantly challenge ourselves to be more creative in the way we assess candidates to create a better candidate experience and reduce our time-to-hire. We also want a fair process which evaluates people for their true potential without compromising our values or the quality of candidates who become our next amazing Thoughtworkers.
3. Set everyone up to succeed
As we adapt our workplaces to the new ‘hybrid’ normal, it’s an opportunity to redefine how and where work gets done – and how that can empower, rather than hold back, a diverse workforce.
If organizations can only do one thing in the year ahead, it’s to create a work culture that continually seeks and celebrates differences where everyone feels seen and heard.
When supporting women and under-represented gender minorities, help men become better allies too. Do not underestimate their desire to participate. In my experience, men are increasingly willing to show they don’t have all the answers. It’s OK to ask how you can help, to be open about acknowledging you don’t always know the right thing to say.
Speaking up and listening with intent is the most powerful action we can all take. Because when people are too afraid to say the wrong thing, that silence results in nothing being done. The more organizations do this work intentionally, the more benefits they will start to see – for business performance, and employer brand perception. Over time, women and under-represented gender minorities will seek out truly inclusive organizations for opportunities, because they know they will be welcomed, included and empowered to realize their full potential.
Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.