BLK@Postlight on DEI: A Different Perspective
To deliver great software for everyone, it needs to be built by everyone.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is more than bringing together a melting pot of individuals — it has a profound impact on culture, building high-quality software, and growing strong leadership. Our very own BLK@Postlight ERG leaders Lucie, Malcolm, and Justyn had a roundtable discussion about their perspectives on diversity, equity, and inclusion and its importance in the world of software dev. Here are their thoughtful responses, challenges, and advice on how to do DEI better.
What does diversity, equity, and inclusion mean to you? Why is it important?
Justyn: Starting off with a loaded question! Firstly, when a company actively supports DEI, that tells me a lot about what the culture values and how the organization operates. Part of it is leading with empathy, part of it is leading with awareness and thoughtfulness. These companies are essentially saying, “We value having a culture that is multi-sided and can draw from the unique experiences shared by all groups of people, and we understand this has a direct positive impact on the projects we deliver.” At its core, DEI benefits everyone involved — colleagues, companies, clients, the products we build, and the users we build them for. In order to deliver great software for everyone, it needs to be built by the hands of everyone — and by everyone, I’m referring to the most inclusive and diverse set of product managers, strategists, designers, and engineers to ensure that “no stone is left unturned” in the pursuit of delighting all users.
Malcolm: DEI is more than a buzzword. It is reworking hiring practices, welcoming those who are from minority groups, and supporting them while they work to navigate the workplace day-to-day, and most importantly, providing a safe space for those folks to advocate for themselves. This goes alongside having real influence on company practices, events, and work. No one wants to be invisible at work (aside from being “away” on Slack).
Lucie: It’s not just important, it’s essential! And there’s no downside, provided that DEI at your company isn’t treated like an obligatory burden. DEI not only ensures that your company is making a conscious effort to include people from diverse backgrounds, it’s also creating a foundation for people to connect to cultures and lifestyles they may not know much about. With due effort, this helps build a healthy company culture, a productive work environment — and quite honestly — personal growth and enrichment.
How do you think DEI manifests within software development?
Lucie: Hm, I’m going to answer this from my perspective as a Product Designer, and how design is influenced by DEI — which it totally is.
For starters, much like tech in general, minorities (especially Black people, and especially Black women) make up a very small percentage of the workforce, and as you go up the chain of command, you see even less representation. This lack of representation creates a very scary domino effect that not only affects work culture but also runs a risk of translating into the products. It feeds into branding, marketing, copy, visual content, and design interaction as a whole and can lead to tone-deaf content and lack of accessibility features and inclusivity. (Case in point, when left unchecked, look at the racism and sexism that appears in AI today.)
Justyn: We have some of the largest technology companies producing the most widely used software products in the world. How safely can we really say that, within their employee ranks, these companies are representative of the global demographic? What starts happening is that we get products that aren’t built for everyone and are impacted by each of our biases. While it’s still a long road ahead to breaking down biases in products, promoting a culture of DEI means we can tackle software development from multiple angles and perspectives. Additionally, new ideas prosper in environments where individuals think differently and have unique experiences—all of which thrive in great software development.
What do you think is often missed or underrepresented in DEI?
Lucie: Women! I often see orgs prioritize representation of people in minority groups, or people with disabilities, but not so much women. Inclusivity for people who are neurodivergent, such as people with ADHD, autism, dyslexia, bipolar disorder, and Tourette syndrome, to name a few, is gaining traction but still underrepresented.
Justyn: Action. A lot of organizations talk about DEI but not enough are doing something about it. It’s easy for an organization to say that diversity is important and that inclusion is integral to their culture. The hard part is taking action. It’s moving those ideals forward. The other part of this is empowering employees to take action. For example, at Postlight, the BLK@Postlight employee resource group was created by a community of Black employees who were given the support and autonomy to cultivate Black representation here. And to this day, we are actively encouraged to have our own share of voice, promote diversity among our colleagues, and advocate for an inclusive work environment.
Malcolm: I think there is an overemphasis on diversity and not enough on inclusion and equity. This is insufficient because an employee’s sense of belonging (i.e., inclusion) and experience of fairness (i.e., equity) is critically important in ensuring an inclusive workplace. It’s great to have people that look like me in the workplace, but if we were all hired to make the workplace more diverse, it doesn’t mean much. As Justyn said, you really have to be about action — working to get everyone involved so that the products the company produces represent not only the folks who work there but also are more well-rounded for those they serve. Also, if you are only thinking about Black culture in February or LGBTQIA+ culture during Pride celebrations, I implore you to reassess that line of thought.
What advice would you give leaders on embracing Black culture in the workplace?
Malcolm: If you want to promote Black culture and DEI in general and you don’t have ERGs, start there. If you have an ERG, you should be employing hiring practices to increase diversity in leadership and facilitate safe spaces for those voices to be heard when it comes to making decisions.
I remember when the BLK@Postlight ERG reached out to me on my first day here at Postlight. I immediately felt much more at ease. There is an ease when it comes to speaking to other Black people (or people you share an experience with). Whether about work or current events, there is less to be explained in order to gain understanding. This understanding can lead to positive outlets for feedback in team dynamics or even in speaking to leadership. It can also be a release to have a sense of community at work and know that it is a safe space for you to speak your mind.
Lucie: Right — don’t just leave DEI inside a company binder. Get involved! Not only your team but leadership, all the way up to the CEO, should be promoting, hiring, calling out achievements, and TALKING to Black employees. ERGs are a great place for some of this. Postlight does really well in creating a safe and warm environment in their ERGs for anyone of any background to connect and chat with Black people. And it doesn’t have to be about struggles, news, and so on. It can just be, “Hey, how’s it going?”
Justyn: Ensure that there’s a space — whether an ERG, social group, Slack channel, or other space — for Black employees to connect with one another. Especially when new Black employees join our ranks, we’ve found that BLK@Postlight has been a warm welcome and a bit of a safe space for them (and myself!) to immediately feel comfortable joining the Postlight team. Also, looking for opportunities for the broader organization to hear more from Black colleagues and leaders — whether at large company meetings, lunch and learns, fireside chats, or any other thought-leadership talks — is extremely important to embracing and promoting a culture of diverse and inclusive opinions, feedback and, ultimately, in building best-in-class products. On top of supporting DEI ERGs, donate to organizations important to the group and include them in the selection process. For example, BLK@Postlight most recently donated to Black Girls CODE.
How can anyone participate in DEI at work?
Lucie: As a designer, collaboration is key, and to collaborate, one must be willing to support, learn, and grow from everyone. I think this is true for any professional background. The best way any professional can participate is by letting go of the worry that you might say the wrong thing and embrace the discomfort. Ask questions. Get involved in workplace groups as an ally.
Malcolm: Support really is key here. Join ERGs as an ally, and come to these spaces to gain perspective and to learn first. We still live in a world where it can feel very unsafe for folks who aren’t het-cis white men to provide input on topics in the workplace, so as an ally be sure to invite people, leave space for people to speak for themselves, and save your input for later. Even if you are a diversity enthusiast, speaking for someone is still taking away their voice.
Justyn: Keep an open mind, ask questions, support your colleagues, and challenge your organization. Keep an open mind to the unique struggles your colleagues may be going through. Ask questions if you don’t understand what your colleagues might be experiencing and how it affects their work. Support your colleagues when, for example, things in the real world get “too real” and too close for comfort. And challenge your organization to embrace DEI and to take action.
Lucie Calloway (she/her) is a Product Designer at Postlight. Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Malcolm Peterson (he/him) is an Associate Engineer at Postlight. Reach out at email@example.com.
Justyn Vasquez (he/him) is a Senior Product Manager at Postlight. Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Story published on Feb 15, 2023.