Developing software in the Real World

Team culture and diversity

Last Friday, I attended a course on managing people led by Meri Williams and learnt a lot. I highly recommend booking her next course if you can. During the Q&A session, there was a question about hiring for diversity and Meri had some very interesting thoughts. I won’t try to reproduce them all here as I’ll be doing her a disservice.

One comment that resonated was that ideally you want your team members to be able to see others like themselves in the organisation so they can see the potential for their future success and growth within the company.

She also pointed out that you need to ensure that your culture isn’t exclusionary before the first hire that changes it. For example, let’s say that the entire team always goes out for beers on Friday after work. As soon as you hire a father of young kids, he probably wants to go home on Friday at 5pm so that he can see them before they go to sleep. If you haven’t already changed this aspect of your team’s culture, then the new team member is blamed for Friday night beers no longer being the same. So not only is he the first family-man in the company, he’s now responsible for “ruining” a tradition. Who would want to be that person? How long is he likely to stick around?

The same basic issue applies to everyone who doesn’t fit the culture, whether they are a woman, black, over 35, deeply religious, transgender, etc.

Interestingly, this issue also came up in an article published the same day in The Guardian regarding GitHub usernames where Lorna Mitchell commented: “I want people to realise that the minorities do exist. And for the minorities themselves: to be able to see that they aren’t the only ones … it can certainly feel that way some days.”

It’s really important that you have someone “ahead” of you that you can see is a success. If you don’t, then you’re more likely to leave, both the company and the industry.

You can see this effect with user groups too. For example, I have children and have to plan around my family commitments when I go out to a meet up in the evening. If a user group announces the next meeting on Twitter or to the mailing list only a few days before it happens, then the odds are that I won’t be able to go and the only people that do attend are those that don’t have to plan their lives in advance. I know that the user group is not intentionally excluding me; it’s the side-effect of their culture.

Obviously, you can’t magic up a diverse set of senior developers overnight. However, you can address culture and behaviour in your company or user group that is exclusionary to anyone in a different demographic to your current team.

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