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  • Jesse

Why and how to start a diversity and inclusion group

I have a confession to make. I joined Qwilr’s diversity and inclusion group (D&I group) by accident. 

Let me explain. 

One of my onboarding tasks was to join a few Slack channels that weren’t directly related to my team (an idea I fully support). There was a list. On the list was a “D&I working group.”

I had no idea what “D&I” stood for. I thought it was something like “discovery and invention” — a  place where we could share all our most radical ideas on new ways to think about problems and come up with exciting solutions (which, oddly, is not that far off from what a D&I group does).

Our D&I group has a bi-weekly meeting. So, before my first meeting I decided it was a good idea to Google “D&I” to find out what it stood for, just in case I was wrong. Obviously, I was. Though perhaps somewhat funny, the uncomfortable truth is my ignorance was a prime example of my privilege.  

I didn’t have to know what “D&I” stood for because I was always included by default. Others aren’t so privileged, and to them, I’m sorry I didn’t educate myself sooner. To those in my shoes, it’s time to educate yourself and get involved, too. 

Initially, as a straight white cis-gender man, it felt almost wrong to join the group. My perspective is already wildly overrepresented. It’s one of the many reasons D&I groups need to exist in the first place. 

I felt really insecure and embarrassed of my lack of knowledge on the matter. So much so, I contemplated not attending at all. Though, after my first meeting it became incredibly obvious exactly why someone like me should join: To listen, to learn, and to use my privilege to help. Everyone’s role in the group is different. Some teach, and some learn. Some lead, and others support. 

I’ll admit, it’s weird to start a diversity and inclusion piece talking about my experience as a white guy, but I did that for a reason. The reason is to let anyone who may feel uncomfortable with the idea of joining a D&I group know:  Everyone has a role to play in diversity and inclusion, even if it may not seem that way on the surface. 

Why diversity and inclusion is important

The conversation around diversity is one that’s grown quite a lot recently, but in tech, the disparity has been made abundantly clear numerous times. In fact, one study of 100,000 developers in 2018 found that 93% of engineers are men, and 74% are white or of European descent. 

Though not every industry, or role, has that level of disparity, all can improve drastically. There are many reasons why diversity and inclusion is important. First of all, we at Qwilr want to build a diverse and inclusive team because we believe it’s the right thing to do. 

Beyond that, there are a host of benefits. Research by McKinsey indicates diverse companies are better able to understand their customers, recruit top talent, and have higher levels of employee satisfaction. 

The same study by McKinsey shows companies with more diversity perform better. In fact, those in the top quartile for diversity were 33% more likely to outperform their peers in profitability. Not only that, but those in the bottom quartile were 29% more likely to underperform when compared to their peers. 

Starting your diversity and inclusion group

Even with data like this readily available, racial,  ethnic, and gender diversity remain an issue. Australia leads the way for women in executive roles at 21%, though women make up 47% of their total workforce. For racial and ethnic diversity, the U.S. only has 11% of executive roles filled by BIPOC persons, even though 22% of the U.S. workforce is BIPOC. 

This all shows no matter where you are, or what industry you’re in, there’s work to be done. We know. We’re doing our best to address issues of diversity at Qwilr and are still far off from our goals. Drastic change is not going to happen overnight, but it needs to start happening now. 

Organizing a diversity and inclusion group is a small, but powerful and necessary, step toward contributing to that change. If your company doesn’t already have one, here’s how to get started:

Get buy-in

In any organization, senior leadership sets the tone and overall direction for the company. So, in order to be part of that direction, you do need to get their support. Having people at the top involved will not only signal to the rest of the business that this is a priority, it’ll also make getting resources like budget much easier.

Depending on the size of your company, the process by which you get support will vary, but there’s likely two key items you should be able to prove: 

  1. Creating the group benefits the business (feel free to use the points mentioned above).
  2. There’s already interest from the team.

There may be more that you need to present to get their attention, but both of these are incredibly useful. If you’re curious to know how much interest there is, consider asking others you have a close relationship with. After identifying some early interest, you may consider sending out a survey. It doesn’t have to be anything super formal, just a pulse check so you have some evidence to back up your claim. 

I also want to note, the first two steps mentioned here are relatively interchangeable. The group may come before the leadership buy-in, or you make seek buy-in before starting the group. Either works, but you’ll need buy-in for your group to succeed in the long run.

Recruit

You need members in order to have a group. Plain and simple. If you decide to run an initial survey, reach out to those who expressed interest. You may also consider bringing it up in a company meeting, or newsletter, to spread the word and let others know about the group. 

Though diversity is important in any group, in this one it’s paramount. Do your best to bring in people not only from different demographics, but also from different teams, roles, and levels of leadership. 

By doing that, you make sure that people at every level and stage of the organization not only have a voice, but also have a personal stake in the success of your efforts. Also, every new perspective you add means having an even richer dialogue and more experiences to inform your efforts.

Set goals

The act of simply meeting and discussing diversity and inclusion is a positive step, and more than some are doing. That said, it does help to have action items that are measurable to help further the impact of your group. 

Be sure to have a mix of short-term and long-term goals. Having early and quick wins can help build momentum and sustain the group when going through the process of achieving the longer-term goals. 

Some good short term goals could be reviewing current hiring material for inclusive language. Another important first effort is understanding where your company is currently. One way to do that is by creating a survey to learn what the current makeup of your team is. That information should offer insight into areas where you may be deficient and could help shape longer-term goals like hiring. 

If you’re worried that asking for personal information like race, gender, or sexual orientation may be off-putting, the Census Bureau found people aren’t more likely to skip those questions. If it’s still a worry, most survey tools allow you to make certain questions optional. 

Be visible 

Diversity and inclusion shouldn’t be the task of just a few. In order to make sure the whole company is aware, you need to talk about what you’re doing and results you’ve achieved. There are a few different ways you can go about doing this. 

If you do a company meeting, set up a regular cadence to give an update. Another option is being part of a newsletter or something similar. Once you’re further along and have more infrastructure, you might consider doing a quarterly, or yearly, diversity and inclusion report. 

All of it comes down to this: staying in front of people. The more often you can engage others, the better. Making diversity and inclusion a normal thing to talk about benefits everyone. The more you talk about it, the more aware people are, and the more it becomes ingrained in the culture. 

Though it’s important to have those conversations within your teams, and company, it’s also important to share the work you’re doing with the world-at-large. Again, the more the conversation happens, the better it is for everyone. That’s part of why I’m writing this article, and why we’ll be sharing what we learn as we continue growing our own program. 

Keep it up

To use a cliche, diversity and inclusion is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes time, energy, endurance, perseverance, and dedication. Though it won’t always be easy work to do, it will always be work worth doing. 
Remember, everyone’s role in impacting diversity and inclusion will vary.

So, if the best way you can serve is to listen, then listen. If there’s a time you can share, share. If you’re unsure of how you can contribute, ask. Just to say it one more time: everyone has a role to play in diversity and inclusion. Please, do your best to find yours.

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