(This is one blog post from a two-part series. In this piece, we explore the themes around common success experienced in initiatives aimed at increasing diversity and inclusion. Find part one here!)
OfferZen Foundation has explored a variety of themes around diversity and inclusion (D&I) over the last few months. Although the hard and often uncomfortable discussions around diversity are invaluable and necessary, we felt there was more that we could - and should - be doing with and for our tech community. As a result, Foundation brought together some early-adopter founding members for an inaugural D&I ‘community of practice’ workshop. In this article, we’ll capture some of the stories and themes that were shared at our first session together, specifically with regards to the successes and enablers for achieving diversity.
Why Foundation, and why a ‘community of practice’?
As OfferZen Foundation, OfferZen’s not-for-profit organisation, we’ve had a lot of discussions in the last few months around our core mission, which is: To help underserved South Africans thrive in their tech careers, by acting as a rally point for discussions and actions that help combat the pervasive D&I challenges in the tech industry.
These conversations have given us access to a network of individuals in the tech community who are already working towards D&I, and a lot of really valuable insights.
We found ourselves in a privileged position, one which we consider as an obligation and opportunity to turn conversations into collective action. We wanted to do more than ‘just talk’, and be a rally-point to get to the ‘doing’.
We positioned the above within the frameworks of the Theory of Change and Communities of Practice (CoPs). Even though they are not always labelled in this way, CoPs are already all around us. Whether it’s a running group or a support team of mentors, a CoP is simply a group of people with a shared goal that come together to map out where they want to go, and what they need to get there.
They are, importantly, practitioners. This means they don’t only ‘discuss’; they actually do things.
Workshopping collective action
With this in mind, we invited founding members to our OfferZen offices for our first workshop session as a CoP. OfferZen joined that CoP as a member as well, and not only as the session’s mediator. The other companies we invited included representatives from: Allan Gray, Afrolabs, Franc, GetSmarter (2U), Britehouse, OneDayOnly, Prodigy Finance, Altron, Jag Method, Khonology, and WhereIsMyTransport.
The goal was to get to know each other, and position ourselves around our problem statement, namely: “I want more racially and gender diverse people thriving in my high-calibre tech team.” While this was by no means the only thing that the members wanted to focus on, it was a useful way to curate our founding-group CoP, and have something concrete to begin with.
By sharing common challenges and successes with each other, around what’s worked and failed when implementing D&I, three focus areas surfaced as overarching themes:
- Organisational culture (i.e. How does our current organisational culture block/enable diversity?)
- Diversity in the hiring process (i.e. What is our plan to hire more diversely, and how do we articulate it well?)
- Training and education for the diverse pool of talent (i.e. What can we do to help train, develop skills within, and give role models to the diverse talent pool?)
These are where the members felt most challenged, or where they had the most to learn. The focus areas will inevitably guide which solutions the members decide to pursue.
For now, however, we’ll outline some of the broader themes that came out of our session from what was shared around common success and wins. These all deal with the achievements that seem to be enablers for diversity, that members had experienced in the past when trying to initiate D&I efforts in their own organisations. They fall into the following broader focus areas:
Deliberate “plans” for interns/grads from non-traditional tech backgrounds
Having dedicated and deliberate mentorship programmes and training initiatives for people as they walk into a workplace has proven very effective. It mitigates a lot of things early on, and is a proactive way to make someone feel like they’re being cared for, and wanted at the company. Members expressed a unanimous positivity to the impact that this has on the retention of hires.
Being explicit about diversity throughout your organisation
Making BBBEE a norm across the board was also shared as an enabler. Even if this takes the shape of simply as keeping it top-of-mind, and explicitly calling it out, it stands that being explicit about the role diversity should play in an organisation helps building an awareness around its importance.
Creating general awareness around diversity
The members agreed that getting broader organisational buy-in is a common challenge, but that creating general awareness at various levels really helps mitigate this. Whether it’s being intentional about talking around culture at the coffee station, or having weekly events to deep-dive into a specific tradition someone practices at the office, it is a valuable first step to make diversity more visible at a ground-level is a valuable first step.
Collaboration and partnerships
The ‘lone-ranger’ syndrome was a common feeling - the feeling that group members experienced where they felt that they are the only ones doing anything about D&I. However, all the collaboration and partnerships that the members had been a part of make D&I initiatives a lot easier. Be it funding, general support, or even just learning from each other, working in partnerships or in collaboration with a group (such as our CoP!) make any moves towards D&I more effective. This simply drove home the importance of working together as a CoP going forward.
Being intentional about hiring
Members also shared the success they’ve had in revamping and assessing hiring systems in order to eliminate biases that might exist. A simple example of this might be to remove a person’s picture, name, and gender from their application. Small changes like these also make it easier to become of where hiring biases still exist, and start paving the way for how to address them.
Enabling/encouraging smaller CoPs within your organisation
Enabling an organisation to run its own CoPs has also proven to be a useful way to bring diversity in at a ground level. Supporting teams to initiate, for example, trans-gender forums, or women with children forums, are great ways to not only empower the diversity you already have in your organisation, but to attract it as well. As a CoP, members could help those who want to do something similar in their own capacity.
Building the vocabulary needed for D&I
Getting comfortable with the language of D&I, and assessing the language we use in our hiring or operations was identified as an enabler for D&I because it feeds into everything else we do. It augments the enablers, and helps combat the challenges we still face. In short, building this vocabulary is what members believe will make D&I truly accessible in the long-run.
(Read part one here, on the common challenges faced in initiatives aimed at increasing diversity and inclusion.)