Supporting Diversity and Inclusion

How can I, as a middle-aged and CIS white guy, support diversity within the engineering department and throughout an organization?

How can I, as a middle-aged and CIS white guy, support diversity?

There's lots of work to be done, and I'm in a privileged position to help. Here are some things that an ally can do to support diversity and inclusion efforts in an engineering organization.

Optics matter

When minority or marginalized folks see their own identities represented at various levels of an organization, they are validated and encouraged that similar opportunities will be extended to them.

As someone responsible for the public-facing image of the engineering department, I can quite easily ensure that the engineering department presents itself as a welcoming and inclusive community.

Blog posts, promo videos, accolades, news updates are all opportunities to promote minority representation. It's a small gesture, but it's an easy ways to open the door to more diversity.

Values matter

Company values are a great way to establish a bridge between people, and to kickstart a culture or cultural shift. Establish values that work towards supporting inclusivity and the promotion of marginalized voices. Folks want to work at companies that have values that align with their own, and will feel safe to speak out if the values are deeply held.

To assert that values are deeply held, engineering leadership can refer to values in discussions and decision making, and especially in praise and recognition. It might feel a little awkward or forced at the beginning, but with practice, it becomes natural and a source of pride.

Company-level values are most important for setting a culture across an organization, but an engineering department can and should also be able to speak to values more specifically within the engineering department. Sometimes this is articulated as a set of engineering principles. ย And finally, it's also possible to uphold values at the team level, as is common with established team norms.

Focus on the top of the funnel

The wider the net, the more fish you'll catch. So if you're looking for quality D&I applicants that can pass the technical bar as well as a company values interview, it's important to ensure that a significant portion of feasible candidates are meeting the D&I target criteria.

This takes time and effort. It's only possible to get so far with posting to your own network, or the company social media accounts. You can ask folks to share widely, and as a matter of course, some will. But it's not the same reach as with targeted marketing campaigns.

One of my favourite approaches is to sponsor a meetup that is relevant to the communities that you are trying to connect with. There are plenty of groups that will love to take in some money in return for promoting your job posting. It's a great way to grow a network while walking the talk ๐Ÿ˜Ž.

Invest Intentionally

As an engineering leader, it's important to survey and notice when certain voices in the room could benefit from amplification. One-to-one's are an opportunity to mentor direct reports in communicating and executing on important work. Helping to articulate good ideas, and to champion those ideas publically supports folks who might otherwise feel too accustomed to being on the sidelines.

But sometimes mentorship is not enough to achieve the goals of an organization โ€“ when this is the case, a move from mentorship to sponsorship can be invaluable. For example, it's often beneficial to have leadership and workforce representative of local populations. If there is a drastic mismatch in representation, intentional sponsorship of individuals can be an effective approach to mitigating the effects of structural inequalities or unconscious bias.

A sponsor is able to use their influence to advocate for sponsored individuals, actively promoting accomplishments and potential, creating opportunities and promoting visibility at higher levels in the organization. The idea is that talent from all backgrounds can be recognized, nurtured, and brought to positions of influence, creating a more inclusive organizational culture.