Creating a comprehensive diversity and inclusion program is a top priority for companies across the globe. At a recent Geekup event hosted by Culture Amp and GitHub, our panelists had a thoughtful discussion on this topic.
They dug into how People teams can tailor inclusion programs to align with their organization’s values and needs. The speakers included:
- Steven Huang, Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Culture Amp (moderator)
- Merritt Anderson, VP Employee Experience & Engagement at GitHub
- Andrea Robb, Director, Talent Design & US Talent Operations at Airbnb
- Alison Covarrubias-Clapp, Head of Recruiting at Plenty
In this article, we’ll dig deeper into how these leaders are cultivating a sense of belonging among their employees with bespoke inclusion programs.
First, what is belonging?
Before diving in, it’s important to clarify how the panelists define “belonging.” The general consensus was that, while it’s important to measure inclusion through surveys, belonging is first and foremost a feeling that comes from rallying around a powerful mission or shared values.
Below is each speaker’s personal definition:
Merritt Anderson: “For me, belonging is a lot about a feeling. It’s amazing that we have the partnership with Culture Amp to be able to measure this concept but, belonging is primarily about building intentional connections, meaningful relationships, and taking the time to create together. That’s the focus for us here.”
Andrea Robb: “It’s the general feeling you have about your fit or your potential fit between yourself and those you work with. It’s like when you have that feeling like you just arrived in a warm, friendly neighborhood.”
Alison Covarrubias-Clapp: “One of our core values at Plenty is that we “work as one.” As an agriculture company, Plenty has an incredibly diverse team — from farmers to marketers and plant scientists to mechanical engineers. We’re continuously trying to engage every person on our team in activities that foster collaboration and a sharing of perspectives, such as book clubs or movie nights. These aren’t extracurriculars of the typical flavor — we choose meaty topics that make the mind melding relevant to our industry, yet we create groups who can foster understanding amongst teams and individuals across the company.”
While the general definition of belonging was similar across the board, the way that fostering inclusion is executed on should be specific to each organization. Below are three strategies the panelists recommended when it comes to customizing an inclusion program.
1. Understand your demographic
The first step to tailoring an inclusion program is to understand who your employees are, and what needs they may have – keeping in mind that what works for one team may not be the case for others. For instance, Alison shared how technology can be a blocker at her company and isn’t always the right approach to create a sense of belonging among their employees.
“One of the challenges that Plenty faces with regard to belonging is that technology can be a limiting factor for us. Since we’re an agriculture company, we have people who work in our farms and aren’t on Slack or Gmail all day. So our team is always thinking of ways to get people to gather and have a shared sense of community outside of technology.”
On the flip side, technology can be very helpful for companies – such as GitHub – who want to leverage it to foster collaboration across time zones or keep their global teams connected. According to Merritt, technology has been an invaluable tool for her teams.
“We have amazing technology and tools that enable us to be together in a more intentional way. For instance, I have a team that hasn’t seen one another in a year, but they’re on video chat every day together, which is incredible to see.”
2. Encourage the hard conversations
A side effect of having an empathetic and kind company culture is that tough conversations are sometimes glossed over. This is a missed opportunity to have productive discussions around issues important to the people at your company. Also, creating an environment that doesn’t encourage open conversations can inadvertently silo people who may have unpopular opinions and make them feel unwelcome at their own workplace.
“If everybody is afraid to say something that may not go over well or may offend somebody, you can’t get to the heart of the matter,” said Merritt. “We’re in the trenches of starting the dialogue. There needs to be vulnerability in saying, ‘It’s okay, you’re not always going to get it right.’ Let’s create the space for those difficult conversations.”
Our moderator, Steven, agreed and explained the steps he’s taking as the Head of Diversity and Inclusion to ensure that safe space is built in for all Culture Amp employees.
“As I was building our check-in survey for this year, I threw in an extra foundational question, which was: ‘Is Culture Amp a place where we can have conversations around sensitive topics?’ I asked that question to make sure shame isn’t infiltrating the way we have these conversations. We ended up having 70% of people agree.”
While many inclusion practices strive to eliminate this culture of trepidation, certain practices – such as unconscious bias training – can actually backfire and make the problem worse. You need both bias-busting people practices and training to be effective. That’s why every organization needs to be thoughtful about the way they execute on this type of training. Andrea recalled one example of this at Airbnb.
“I remember sitting through one ally skills training and seeing the white men in the room physically close off their bodies. It was a huge learning for me to see that. So I went to the facilitator after and we revamped our approach to the discussion and training on this topic. We ensured that it’s not a class that creates lists of rules but rather a way to invite in-group members to share their power for underrepresented minorities. That’s why it’s so important to pay attention to details like that.”
3. Collect all perspectives
When building an inclusion program at the workplace, freelancers and remote workers can sometimes be left out since. This not only goes against the very concept of belonging and inclusion, but also skips over the opinions of employees who have the benefit of understanding your culture while still maintaining a sense of objectivity.
There are many ways to cultivate a sense of belonging among gig workers and remote teams, such as including them in employee engagement surveys, inviting them to offsites, and encouraging coffee meetings with the rest of the team. Alison shared her personal experience working with the gig workers at Plenty.
“We just completed a culture survey for this quarter. A question came up after the survey went out about whether we should we be including our contractors, consultants, and part-timers in these surveys. Unfortunately, we answered that question too late to include them, but we realized the misstep and will change our process for the next round. Fortunately, we have taken the right steps in other situations. For example, in December, we had a weekend offsite event in Colorado. The same question was asked, and at that time, the decision was made that contractors, hourly employees, and everyone else were coming, and we’re paying for it. I loved that decision.”
An inclusion program, just like every other aspect of employee engagement, is something that requires special attention and customization by People teams. Hopefully, these tips from our panelists will inspire you to refine your own and think deeply about ways to further foster a sense of belonging at your company.
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A special thanks to GitHub for hosting us at their beautiful office, and a round of applause to our wonderful panelists and People Geeks who joined our event.
Missed the Geekup? Check out our events page to find an upcoming one near you!