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  • Writer's pictureAmory Borromeo

Women in Tech: Creating an Inclusive Environment

Updated: Aug 26, 2020

A little warmth brightens my cheeks, as I try to check my ego and brush off the compliment. It feels great to have someone I respect compliment me professionally, but I feel guilty for feeling proud. This is the result of years of social conditioning telling us that egotistical people aren’t good team players and that to be successful in business, we can’t show any form of arrogance.


It’s easy for us to brush off compliments and to try to suppress our egos for the sake of developing relationships with our teams. The trouble is that we can go a little too far and then we forget how much we’ve learned.

There is a way to have a healthy balance, and I personally think it’s centered around gratitude. When we are grateful for our experiences, along with the challenges we were presented and the opportunities we’ve navigated through, it’s easier for us to speak to how we managed it without feeling arrogant. This way, others can learn from our mistakes, as well as our successes.

Having worked in the tech and start up space for more than a decade, I’ve gotten my fair share of battle wounds. I have to remember that not everyone else has those wounds or the muscle memory to work through them. When I share a thought that feels obvious and receive excitement and shock, I feel a sense of gratitude, not pride or ego, for having the ability to leverage that experience in the current situation.

If I look through this lens, I can then start to think of the hard lessons I’ve learned over time and get creative in proactively sharing these experiences instead of being reactive when we’re fighting a fire. This could even prevent the fire in the first place. (I’m obviously a bit of a hopeful optimist too.)

Creating a space within the workplace for individuals to share their experiences with each other can not only really build the entire group, but also helps to foster relationships and hear how others may have navigated through similar issues. This exercise and focus on accepting successes and failures helps to create a culture of innovation, creativity, as well as develop a safe space to try things. Here are some ideas of how you can include this in your organization.

  1. Ask for a volunteer to speak in your next team meeting and share an experience he or she has had, including the challenges faced, the process for navigating through it, the outcome and what he or she might do differently if they could go back. Stories can be from previous experience and from things that have happened since that individual has been in their current role.

  2. Set expectations of team members. People should be respectful and not judgmental to create an encouraging space for sharing these kinds of self reflection and vulnerability. Individuals should be curious and ask engaging questions to get a better understanding of how decisions were made and why certain people were or were not included. The questions will vary depending on the experience and the team, but the idea is to try to unpack the situation and find ways that this could apply to your team and/or situation.

  3. Make this a recurring part of the team meetings, based on a cadence that makes sense for your team. Recap the lesson learned and try to find a way to tie it back to the team where you can.

  4. Include a summary in the meeting notes so others can look back to it as needed and those who didn’t attend can read through it. This will also display the value you and the team place on diverse experiences and being brave by attempting new, innovative approaches to situations.

Okay, so in theory that makes sense, but if you’re like me, you’ll want an example to go off of, right? I live in the “e.g.” world, so I’m going to pretend that you agree and said "Right!" Here we go…

 

Let’s assume the team is a website development group, that is about to embark on a migration to React. I’ll volunteer to speak at this meeting and share with the team a few different approaches I’ve taken to build out recurring components and front end frameworks. In one instance, we tried to build it out with Atomic design, making the smallest things reusable and hoping to create a space that would allow engineers to put pieces together like legos, in order to build their own custom components. While this was a great concept, it fell short when we realized that a lot of configuration functionality had to be built into each of the elements in order to properly support full custom development.


Another option was to have a component and element library which allowed for atomic design elements but also larger components that were already put together. The idea was that as someone built a component of multiple elements, it could go back to the component library. Again, this fell short because the governing process was too strict and due to the delay vetting components, multiple teams ended up creating similar components or opting not to use the library at all for the sake of moving more efficiently.

The first concept was abandoned, when I wish we could have instead iterated on it and worked with more engineers to come up with a workflow solution to rely less on having so much configuration in the elements themselves. The second situation was “solved” by adding more process which inevitably exacerbated the issue. People became more disengaged with the program, which impacted our clients and resulted in less innovation from engineers. I think the solve to both of these issues would have been to include a broader group early on, iterate on the program using large feedback loops and not try to create a gold plate solution.


I’m so grateful I was able to be part of both of these experiences and teams, in order to see what worked and didn’t work. I think we can apply the learnings to our approach as we migrate to React and start building out new components for the site. Who else will use these components? We should invite them in to help us come up with an approach that will immediately meet our needs and highlight any risks we may run into in the future. We should aim to determine how we want to architect it now but be comfortable with not solving all the possible problems.

 

We can assume that my incredible team would have asked engaging and interesting questions along the way that may have impacted the suggestions I shared. Ideally, we would come up with some of the suggested solutions together. When done often, the team begins to recognize the impact of sharing their past experiences and the entire group is able to benefit from the shared experiences. We were all hired because we have something to offer. It's important that remember that and do our part to speak up share our expertise.

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