Inclusion is Everyone's Business: Q&A for Companies

Earlier, we shared a set of questions and answers from our recent webinar, “I am a Technologist, Not a Female Technologist”, with presenters Dr Rebecca Parsons, ThoughtWorks CTO, and Dr Susan Davis-Ali, Vice President of Organizational Transformation at ABI. While that post focused on actionable tips and advice for the technologist, we know that action must come from all directions in order to create the meaningful change so needed. Now, we’re digging into questions submitted during the webinar regarding the organization’s role in creating inclusive workplaces.

Q: How can organizations provide a safe environment for women in events such as meetups, conferences, etc.?

One of the simplest and most powerful ways to do this is to create a Code of Conduct. Here’s an example, from our San Francisco office:
A primary goal of ThoughtWorks San Francisco events is to be inclusive to a diverse group of people from all walks of life. Therefore, we are dedicated to providing a friendly, safe and welcoming environment for all, regardless of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, appearance, disability, marital status, socioeconomic status, veteran status (or any other protected status), and religion (or lack thereof)".

We’re well aware that writing and posting a Code of Conduct doesn’t automatically create a safe environment for everyone (not just women). But it’s definitely a good place to start.

Drafting a CoC (Code of Conduct), forces you to look inward and really evaluate who you are and what you stand for. It’s a declaration of culture which sets the tone and expectations for participants at events. But it’s important not to treat a CoC as an end goal, there needs to be follow through. For events that occur at the ThoughtWorks SF office, we encourage the organizers to include our CoC on their event pages/invites as well as bring it to the attention of the participants at the event itself.

It’s important to keep in mind that no CoC could ever address the subtle and pervasive attacks on marginalized people. Event organizers may not have sufficient resources, planning or training to address all incidents in an effective and just way. Event organizers can’t be everywhere or notice everything, so everyone needs to speak up when you need support, or see or experience something inappropriate.

For a more comprehensive write up on Code of Conducts, check out Rachel Nabors blog post: “You literally cannot pay me to speak without a Code of Conduct”.

Q: Can you tell us about how ThoughtWorks is supporting women from non-computer science backgrounds to shift into tech?

In ThoughtWorks North America we have a two-year program for new graduates and working professionals with very light technical experience called the Associate Consultant (AC) Program. For the first six weeks of the program, our ACs from all over the world convene in India for what we call ThoughtWorks University (TWU). It is an amazing opportunity and each region aims to send 50% women to each class. To reach this very ambitious goal, our recruiters have gone above and beyond the traditional means of finding candidates. While they attend the usual meetups, conferences, and career fairs they keep an eye out for those that have potential, without letting things like a non-computer science degree get in the way.

Here’s an example of how the hiring process might work for someone without a computer science background. A few years ago, a Junior with a math major, Sallie, came by the ThoughtWorks’ booth during a career fair at Harvey Mudd. She didn’t consider herself on the developer path, but since she had already taken 2 computer science courses and was full of potential, the recruiters encouraged her to apply. She received feedback on her coding assignment so that she could better prepare for her interview. After the offer, her recruiter helped her work out which would be the most beneficial courses for her to take, to prepare her for ThoughtWorks.

Once hired, non-computer science majors are treated just like everyone else. So, like all new grads, Sallie was mailed two computer science books along with some extra practice to make certain that she came prepared on day one.

Once they return from TWU, Sallie and all the ACs are assigned a coach. Their team gives them daily support when they are placed on a project. And if they are curious, they are given the opportunity to try out different roles throughout their career at ThoughtWorks.

Q: What are some of the ways that ThoughtWorks structures its interview process to remove unconscious bias?

ThoughtWorks puts a lot of focus on finding diverse candidates and ensuring that the interview process is as transparent and unbiased as possible. There are a few things within our interview process that we’re very deliberate about:
  • We aim to have a diverse group of interviewers in terms of roles, gender and seniority.
  • We do blind assessments on code submissions, which means the code reviewers only see the code and no other information about the candidate.
  • We’re implementing unconscious bias training in many regions.
During the interview process, we’re also looking to ensure that the candidates themselves don’t hold any biases that may be a problem. For example, we always ensure candidates meet a large number of ThoughtWorkers, as well as holding a specific cultural interview. During this time we carefully observe things like any differences in a candidate’s manner (depending on the audience), only acknowledging one interviewer, inability to handle opposing points of views.

Q: How do tech companies successfully encourage men to contribute to the conversation?

Small things can spark conversations, for example, we often name our conference rooms after remarkable, yet overlooked, people in history, like women and people of color in STEM. This small act recognizes the contributions of diverse individuals and sets up an interesting talking point for visitors.

We also encourage and support internal grassroots groups. One example is the “Gender Justice” group in ThoughtWorks Brazil, who turned their passion into a series of workshops and events to raise awareness about gender issues, which Veronica Moschetta describes in her post, “Practical steps men can take to support feminism”.

Training and workshops like ‘Dealing with Sexism in the Workplace’ and ‘Unconscious Bias Training’ are also part of the effort. They raise awareness of the issues, and give people the tools and ideas to create a more inclusive environment. We encourage everyone to attend, but we specifically target people who are in leadership positions, from project managers and tech leads on teams to managing directors. Our leaders are charged with making decisions that can have tremendous effects on someone’s career: who gets promoted or gets a raise, who participates in a leadership development seminar, who gets a special growth opportunity.

Armed with knowledge and awareness, everyone, including men, can be active supporters and advocates for equality, inclusion, and feminism in the workplace.