Why Leaders Have to Keep Talking About Diversity and Inclusion
No one assumes D&I matters if you haven’t said that it does.
I’ve worked in the technology industry for 20 years now in a variety of roles, from programmer to engineering director to startup founder to managing partner to CEO. Over the years, I’ve heard countless business leaders make hollow-sounding statements about how important diversity and inclusion is at their company. And over the years, on any given day, I was “the only one” in the room — the only woman and the only gay person. Today, here I am, a CEO writing about how important diversity and inclusion is at our company. Life is weird.
When you’ve had to get good and used to being the only one in the room, you develop a special survival skill: a finely tuned nose for sniffing out how welcome you are there. Discrimination comes in many forms. Overt bias is easiest to spot, but the subtle and recurring stuff is the most insidious — death by a thousand microaggressions. You take in the people dynamics: the advocating or erasure, the insensitive joking, the eye contact or lack thereof, and the people who dominate the conversation versus the ones who get interrupted and cut off. The actions in that room tell the story of how hostile or welcoming a culture is and the “only one’s” chances of success or failure.
Twenty years ago, when I started my career, many of these dynamics didn’t even have names. Today, the language around diversity and inclusion and the harm of hostile work environments is part of modern business parlance. It’s a good thing, but when you’re the only one in the room, the cynicism is also there. Virtue signaling. Lip service. Actions speak louder than words. These are the phrases that bubble up in my brain when I see business leaders talking about diversity and inclusion.
But when you’re a leader setting a team’s priorities, talk matters: because when your team internalizes it, walk follows talk. You state the goal, the strategic objective, the business case, and you restate it. And you restate it. And then you state it again. And when your team recognizes that moving in that direction equals success, plans, actions, and teamwork fall out of those statements.
This is why I’d advise any leader that no matter how uncomfortable or fraught it feels, or how hollow you worry it might sound, talking about diversity and inclusion issues at your company is a key part of leading a modern business today. Speaking openly and regularly about the incredible challenges of systemic bias and discrimination, how they show up on our teams and in our work, how they harm our team members and businesses, and what we’re doing to face them is essential to making progress. No one just assumes that diversity and inclusion matters if you haven’t explicitly said that it does. So I’m taking a moment to do just that.
Postlight has always been committed to the work of making our team, our culture, and the digital platforms we build more diverse, inclusive, and equitable. As one of the “only ones” in the room, I wouldn’t have stuck around five and a half years if it didn’t. In our new roles, Chris LoSacco and I renew that commitment. We also believe actions speak louder than words, so we keep track of our specific current and ongoing diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts here.
As Postlight reaches a tremendous milestone this week (100 employees strong!), I want to share a few guiding principles I use to think about our continuing D&I efforts.
- D&I initiatives at Postlight are a constant work in progress, and they always will be. There is no “done” state. It’s not a 10-step process, and there is no checklist to run through that automatically applies to an organization. As best practices, culture, business needs, and team evolves, so shall our efforts.
- Creating a more inclusive culture requires sustained effort over time. Infrequent bursts of energy around particular initiatives are welcome and to be expected, but what’s harder is consistently pressing forward on continuous, incremental improvement. Even small changes over time make a difference. Positive changes normalize and build on one another over the long term. Dismantling means you have to rebuild. Keep making bricks.
- Conversations about D&I are normal, visible, and encouraged at Postlight. As teammates, we create and hold spaces for discussions, questions, feedback, and debate. We hold one another accountable to our mission and values, and leaders model this.
- Our D&I efforts are multifaceted. D&I work is not just about recruiting and hiring. It involves aspects of the entire business and employee lifecycle, including reviews, manager training, conflict resolution, environment, and culture. As Postlight grows and evolves, so will our approaches, methods, and measurements.
- Everyone who works at Postlight contributes to D&I. It’s not HR’s job; it’s everyone’s job. Every person at every level of the company makes us who we are. Whenever possible, leaders and managers hold space for conversations and offer frameworks for action (like Employee Resource Groups) that enable all team members to pitch in on the efforts that are important to them.
Ultimately, Postlight helps our clients achieve business outcomes. Being a more diverse and inclusive organization is a competitive advantage in that work. It makes us a more resilient and adaptable business, gives us access to a wider and deeper talent pool, better suits us to serve a variety of clients across industries, and enables us to design and build platforms that serve all users.
Special thanks to Project Include, an authoritative resource for technology leaders actively working toward building more inclusive organizations.
Gina Trapani (she/her) is CEO at Postlight. Send her a note at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter.
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Story published on Sep 22, 2021.