I’m a man. A white-passing, heterosexual, university-educated, middle-class man. My gender and my skin colour have given me a headstart in life. This quirk of fate has insulated and protected me from many, if not most, of the challenges others not in my privileged position encounter every day. What do I know about diversity and inclusion? If we’re talking lived experience, not much at all.
But, here I am writing about it. Not because I’m an expert, or because I understand what it feels like to be excluded, abused or forgotten. Sure, I was teased for being a ‘half-caste’ at primary school because my father is brown (he immigrated to Wellington from the Cook Islands in the 1950s). But, I’ve lived a very white life. I’m writing because it’s what I do and I care. And, because I’m representing a group of people working towards making Springload a more diverse and inclusive workplace. But more on that later.
What are Springload doing to become more diverse and inclusive?
Awkwardly stumbling towards inclusivity
Good question. We’re currently running at one women to three men. The split used to be 50/50 before we merged with Touchtech who had a much larger proportion of male staff. We’re lacking representation in a number of other areas namely female, but also Māori, Pasifika, LGBTQI, and differently abled people.
We try. For two years we ran Django Girls workshops, which empower and inspire women to fall in love with programming. Just the other day, we wanted to acknowledge Te Wiki o te Reo Māori – Māori language week by translating the top level nav of our website. Even though we weren’t sure we had the correct translations, we published the changes. Only to roll back to the original version later that evening because our translations had been literal rather than colloquial. By the time we had managed to find someone who could provide a correct translation it was Wednesday and the opportunity had passed. This was disappointing, but symptomatic of the ‘living by the seat of your pants’ approach inherent in agencyland. Throw in a recent merger, rebrand and company website relaunch, and diversity was in danger of being put to the side.
Turning our passion into a plan
Thankfully that hasn’t been the case. Internally, I think we were all aware of our white hetero maleness. Even us white guys. Conversations were happening and we were asking ourselves how we become less vanilla. Ideas were being thrown out, such as how to:
- become more conscious about the groups of people we’re hiring
- get guest speakers in to talk to us about diversity and inclusivity-related topics
- align ourselves with like-minded organisations
- get involved in a meaningful way with schools.
But before we ran off and fucked everything up with our unbridled passion but lack of planning, we took a step back. We needed a strategy and/or a policy. Most importantly, we needed to form a group consisting of a range of voices who could lead this project.
Luckily, we’d already been experimenting with a distributed form of leadership that involved creating ‘circles’ to improve the way Springload functions. These are cross-functional groups whose goals sit outside the prescribed job descriptions of those who join. The people who join bring certain skills to the table that may benefit the circle. For example, our marketing circle is responsible for our external newsletter, website updates, and blog articles. It includes designers, writers, performance and optimisation specialists, and project managers. There are other circles such as Learning and Growth, and Internal Comms. It seemed logical to form a diversity and inclusion circle. And ask for volunteers.
Our route to greater diversity and inclusivity
We’re a small group of individuals – as diverse as we can be right now at Springload – who meet once a fortnight. We haven’t been given any specific objective or goals. But, we have been exploring exactly what diversity and inclusion means here at Springload. Gender and ethnic diversity are top of the list. But we also need to consider the experiences of people with disabilities, mental health, solo parents, people with children, and related things like flexible working hours and parental leave. Some of these are already taken care of at Springload. Another priority is attracting and meeting the needs of gender-diverse people. One action we’re planning to take is to make our bathrooms gender inclusive.
There’s also diversity of thought. Obviously, you get this when your workplace includes people from many walks of life with a wide range of experiences and worldviews. But even within these groups there are differences. So, what we need to be thinking about is how we design, develop and create content. Are edge cases really a thing anymore, especially when we should be attempting to design for all? How accessible are our digital products? What we’re saying is we need to become more diverse and inclusive across the board. Always consider other people, but not ‘other’.
So, one of the first things we’re going to do is work on a diversity and inclusion policy/code of conduct. We’ve been looking at how others do this, to get a better handle on what’s required. But, we’re not entirely sure what shape this will take or if we’ll even get it right. But we can’t hold ourselves back because we’re afraid of getting it wrong.
We know we’ve got a long and potentially uncomfortable road ahead. But we’re up for it. Because this is what we want to do, and really — there’s no other route for us to take.