Making DEI actionable, and other takeaways from Women in MACH
Recently, I attended the world’s first Women in MACH event in Madrid. Here, I’ll share a few takeaways and actionable learnings, especially for businesses in the tech space.
Monica RaszykPublished on Oct 18, 2022
The world’s first Women in MACH event held at the Alma Sensai club in Madrid brought together global technology professionals who are passionate about MACH (Microservices-based; API-first; Cloud-native SaaS; Headless) principles and focused on shaping a diverse, equitable, and inclusive future.
Hosted by Mindcurv, commercetools, and empathy.co, the two-day event culminated in authoring the Women in MACH Manifesto for Gender Equality, which includes action items that companies can commit to in areas of hiring, promotion, equal pay, culture, allyship, and representation.
Here, I’ll share a few key learnings from the event and manifesto, as well highlight a couple of interesting activities we do at Kontent.ai. Depending on where you and your organization are at when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and topics of intersectionality, the points below may be more of a reminder or more of a primer; regardless, I hope they can lead to some actionable next steps.
DEI is a continuous commitment
At the start of the event, we contended with a known, but still difficult reality: there’s a major gap between enthusiasm for change in the workplace and tangible results across the board. A few stats that were shared, and others I’ve read up on since:
- Women founders secured only 2% of venture capital in the U.S. in 2021, the smallest share since 2016 (Bloomberg)
- 73% of respondents to the State of DEI in Tech 2022 said there were no Black leaders on their executive teams (Builtin)
- Women make up 20% of engineering graduates, yet only 11% percent of practicing engineers are women (Adeva)
DEI needs to be proactively discussed as a strategic priority; systemic issues won’t solve themselves. A common thread across the event’s keynotes was that change is everyone’s responsibility. Too often, the onus is placed on the underrepresented to not only advocate for themselves, but also lead the charge for others – on top of their actual job scope. That, or organizations already believe their stats are good enough.
Progressive companies instead recognize and vocalize their shortcomings, then design ways to encourage everyone to reach their potential with clearly communicated, transparent steps for growth. To me, the benefit is clear. As Kristin Naragon, VP of Strategy and Growth at Akeneo, said in her keynote, rising tides float all boats.
A couple of manifesto action items to consider for a company that wants to make diversity & inclusion a priority:
- From the section Promotion based on merit: “We commit to having clear pathways for roles in the company defining skills and deliverables with a development plan and salary range.”
- From the section Equal pay: “We commit to defining a mandatory subject in board meetings: Status update gender equality.”
Representation asks us to pay it forward
In the tech space, I feel like there’s truly no lack of opportunity out there. There seems to always be a speaking panel or event stage to fill, a new podcast to join, or an internal all-hands agenda to stack with new voices. There is, however, still perceived, or even engineered, scarcity.
How can we make our panels, podcasts, and meetings less homogeneous? If we shift from a scarcity mindset to one of abundance, we can act accordingly. Executive leadership, people in positions of power, and professional keynote speakers hold the cards and have huge influence here.
For anyone who actively participates in their professional community: Do you feel like you could pass a speaking opportunity to someone else? Or ask a more junior team member to present at the next company kick-off? What would hold you back from doing so? Turning down what feels like your shot can feel scary or uncomfortable, but if more professionals set the example and trust in the change, I believe their next opportunity is just around the corner.
A couple of manifesto action items to consider for a company that wants to embrace abundance:
- From the section Representation: “We commit to ensuring that women are fairly represented across our events (public & internal), social media, and marketing materials. We will aim for 50/50 and not accept more than 60% male representation on any public stage virtually or in person.”
- From the section Culture: “We commit to making gender equality and diversity and inclusion a standard agenda item in all-hands company meetings.”
Confronting bias is simply good business
One potential reason why panels, podcasts, and boardrooms continue to lack adequate representation is what’s called affinity bias. According to a video from Lean In shared during the event, affinity bias is the tendency to be drawn to people who are like us – those who have similar appearances, beliefs, and backgrounds. We may also exclude people who are different from us.
To make sure our organizations actually do elevate diverse voices and experiences, it’s key to build the practice into our repeatable processes. This way, overcoming bias becomes an accepted organizational standard rather than a sidelined to-do or afterthought.
Balanced representation may feel like a long road ahead, but know that it’s also good business. According to Boston Consulting Group’s study, How Diverse Leadership Teams Boost Innovation, “Companies that take the initiative and actively increase the diversity of their management teams – across all dimensions of diversity and with the right enabling factors in place – perform better.”
A couple of manifesto action items to consider for a company that believes in intentionally confronting bias:
- From the section Equality in hiring: “We commit to training our people to avoid bias in interviews. We commit to avoiding biased vocabulary in the hiring process. We will have our vocabulary reviewed by a specialist.”
- From the section Equal pay: “We commit to unbiased transparency of pay and progression and systematic proactive process over individual negotiations.”
Interested in how bias can affect the success of your organization? Learn more about unconscious bias, performance bias, attribution bias, likeability bias, maternal bias, and double discrimination and intersectionality from the video series, 50 Ways to Fight Bias.
Diversity in tech must be nurtured
During one of the panels, Anette Davids, Founder of IT’s Female & member of Women in Tech Germany, reiterated the fact that early development programs make the biggest difference in diverse representation in the long term.
At the corporate level, there are many actions to take towards fair hiring practices, the gender pay gap, and performance reviews. All critical. But it’s equally important to influence and nurture the future pipeline of talent, which tends to become less diverse with each stage of schooling. To read some interesting stats about students and tech, I’d recommend checking out the Diversity in Tech 2021 US Report by mthree, a Wiley company.
Another interesting pool of candidates is coming from “The Great Resignation.” People who are pivoting in their careers may be drawn to tech, and I think this is still a relatively under-tapped opportunity.
A couple of manifesto action items to consider for a company that wants to invest in their employees as well as up-and-coming talent:
- From the section Allies and culture: “We commit to implementing a mentor system connecting leaders with employees, regardless of gender.”
- From the section Culture: “We commit to being involved in events providing diverse representation to encourage young women to enter STEM careers.”
Interested in checking out all the action items and committing to a few? Consider signing the manifesto. It does a nice job recommending how to make change stick: “As people passionate about MACH, we believe in taking smaller incremental, yet impactful steps. Choose at least 5 action items from the list below, raise the bar with these first, and start making a difference.”
Some things we do at Kontent.ai
Every tech company has work to do when it comes to true diversity, equity, and inclusion. Kontent.ai is no exception. We are in an interesting position though, which makes me excited for where we’re headed.
A little about Kontent.ai, for context: in 2015, we started as an internal start up of another company; by 2019, we were operating as a separate business unit. In July 2022, we hit another milestone, becoming a fully fledged standalone company and raising $40 million in growth capital. Since then, we’ve been busy carving out our new brand and corporate identity and ways of working. This, I believe is an opportunity.
I’d like to share some activities we do Kontent.ai that help make it a fair, safe, and abundant place to work and grow.
- Investment in professional development: My manager, Vojtech Boril, was the one who reached out to me with the Women in MACH event opportunity. I didn’t have to spend hours building my case for budget or proving the value of my attendance. This kind of engagement from an executive-level role felt really organic and authentic.
Beyond this example, employees are given the space to pursue professional development. With no recurring meetings scheduled on Fridays, we’re able to dedicate time to learning something new. I believe Kontent.ai has an opportunity to encourage and offer some learning paths related to manifesto’s action items. For example, courses on public speaking or building a compelling presentation would prepare new voices for the spotlight.
- Frequent public recognition: I look forward to Kontent.ai’s weekly internal newsletter. We get to read up on our results, along with the biggest news, successes, and deliverables from the previous week. Leaders don’t simply share updates on behalf of their teams. Instead, employees with interesting stories are given editing access to the newsletter to add the updates themselves. It’s nice to see sections penned by a variety of names each week. Plus, there’s no lack of praise in the comments.
Earlier in this blog, I linked to resources that highlight what’s called attribution bias. As defined by Lean In, “Attribution bias is closely linked to performance bias. Because we see women as less competent than men, we tend to give them less credit for accomplishments.” I think the way the newsletter is developed is a nice example of embedding DEI into everyday processes.
- Proactive CEO listening sessions: Recently, our CEO, Bart Omlo, scheduled 1:1 “listening sessions” with employees across the organization. Two reasons why this approach struck me positively. First, Bart didn’t come with his own agenda. I brought my prepared topics and was able to cover them all. Second, the session was proactively scheduled in my calendar.
Many executives state that their door is always open, inviting folks to come share whatever is on their minds. However, open-door policies often are underutilized, as they put the responsibility of feedback on possibly unsure employees. In this case, it’s probable that only some voices will be heard, or a leader will take the lack of visitors as a sign that everything and everyone is fine.
I’ve covered just a few activities I appreciate, but what remains most exciting is the future of Kontent.ai. We’re set to add 90+ roles over the next year, expand our global footprint, and further develop and embrace our identity. I also feel confident that employees have the support and sponsorship from our executive team – for new ideas and initiatives and more candid, sometimes tough, conversations. We’re hiring, so come see what we’re about.