Live from Button: The “pipeline problem” is about belonging

The “pipeline problem” is about belonging, by John Paz

Myths about workplace diversity

1. “Diversity is a problem that needs to be solved.” Diversity is not a problem. Building a balanced team is something we should aspire to, not be burdened with.

  • Homogenous groups share biases
  • They share assumptions
  • They share knowledge gaps

Diverse groups with diverse backgrounds better reflect your audience. This is a competitive advantage!

2. “Focusing on diversity lowers the bar.” Diversity and inclusion is about widening the net. Going to an Ivy League school is not a skill. Educational pedigree is not as good of a requirement as culturally agnostic character traits.

Change where you look! Look at historically black colleges and universities, instead of Silicon Valley.

3. “The population isn’t there.” 14% of the population identifies as black. 6% of advanced CompSci degrees are black engineers. 4% of tech roles are held by black people. But there are barriers!

  • Poor representation discourages people from applying
  • Few opportunities (if the space isn’t safe, people will leave)
  • Unconscious bias (no explanation needed)
  • Hiring and retention – toxic hiring practices that undermine confidence in people who feel they don’t have much power

When you feel like you belong in a place, you attract more people like yourself.

How do you build a team that feels safe?

Diversity is about representation. Inclusivity is about feeling included, part of the conversation. A diverse and inclusive group needs a balance of perspectives. On a balanced team, everyone has a stake in the outcomes. That can create a sense of belonging.

Teams that feel a sense of belonging work better together and create better products. How do you build belonging?

  • Build team rituals that include everyone
  • Great onboarding. Go above and beyond, and be consistent so that everyone is treated the same and feels harmonious
  • Create skill empathy. Understand what people can do. Know what they’re great at, and how to help. Learn about prior lives and hobbies!

“When we learn about one another we learn how to better relate to one another, and then we trust one another more.”

Build belonging in your products

  • Make your onboarding great! Start with empathy – what’s most important? But only show what’s needed at the moment. And remember the audience’s context.
  • Create inclusive guidelines. Use relevant example. Show what’s useful! And use your guidelines to show what the company stands for. (Revise early and often.)
  • Have an inclusive council. Get executive buy-in. Include diverse perspectives – remember, people must be heard!

Language has the possibility to build bridges. Words matter. Let’s use them wisely.

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