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The Inclusive Leader Developing Diverse Teams

Jill Wetzle
Director of Engineering

"Managing people is hard. Managing people who aren’t like you is harder. As we push to build more diverse teams, how do we ensure everyone can succeed equally? Exceptional leaders use empathy to develop relationships with their teammates, don’t shy away from conversations that feel risky, and use a variety of tactics to bring out the best in their colleagues.

This talk will cover challenging situations using scenarios from both sides of the manager/direct report relationship, applicable to anyone who’s tasked with developing the careers of their teammates. You’ll leave with specific tips on how to ensure everyone gets the opportunity and support they need to perform."

Hello. Thank you for being here today. I'm so glad that Shavani just gave her talk right before mine, because I'm going to cover some similar things. I hope there are things that you can take from her talk, take from my talk, lots of good questions that I hope I'm going to get into. So my name is Joel Wetzler.

I'm director of engineering at Lyft. I lead our infrastructure engineering teams. So everything that sort of keeps lift up and scaling under heavy load and also the things that keep engineers shipping code. So want to talk today about developing diverse teams. So we've heard diversity come up a few times already.

It's obviously something that we're talking about. In the industry. Usually when we talk about it, though, we talk about, and we hire for diversity. We talk about our pipelines. What I want to talk about today is actually once we get diversity in our teams, how do we develop and retain an advanced people?

So I want to start with a depressing slide. If my clicker's working, if I know the right button to push. So this is the corporate leadership pipeline. So this comes from a study from last year that McKinsey did with leanin. And this is not tech specific. You might imagine how these numbers shift in tech.

You might look around this room and knowing that share through does such a great and intentional job. Of getting diversity, not just on the stage, but also in the audience. And still, you might see a little bit of a difference in this pipeline. So at the entry-level things don't look that bleak. But pretty quickly as we started advancing up into leadership and management and then up into the C-suite the numbers dwindle for everybody, but white men.

So white male representation, more than doubles. It shrinks for everybody else. Most notably for women. Today, I'm going to talk mostly about gender diversity and racial diversity, all sorts of other types of diversity that I care about care about age care, about disability, care about sexuality. I think depending on, you know, what type of diversity you need in your teams, there are still some tips that are gonna apply to you today.

So I want to sort of frame things first. So first I'm gonna talk about what we're not going to cover. So we're not going to talk about why diverse teams perform better. There's lots of research on this. You've probably all heard it either. You believe it, or you don't. I don't think it's worth going through these today and we're also not going to talk about why building diverse teams is the right thing.

What you're going to see in this talk is that everything just takes work. It takes intentionality. And so you kind of just have to believe it and come along for the ride with me. And the world's not going to talk directly about how to make your teams more diverse. Like I said, this is not about hiring.

It's not about pipelines. So we're not going to talk about that directly, but this is what we are going to cover. And I think you'll find that when we create trust on our team, And when we can retain an advanced people of all backgrounds. And when we really start to understand the pitfalls and the hurdles that people who are underrepresented in this industry face that our teams are going to perform better.

And then we're going to feel better about the work that we do and sort of related to this thing. I said, I'm not going to talk about hiring for diversity. It gets easier when you yourself have a reputation as somebody that advances and develops people evolve.

So I want to start with an uncomfortable truth. This is not the uncomfortable truth. We must immediately grant trust to those. We lead. I think this makes sense. We've hired somebody they've gone through our interview process. There's no reason for us to think that they can't do their job. However, for us as leaders, we have to assume that we have not yet.

The trust of the people that we lead. What I want you to think about is that for people whose experience in tech is as an other, for people who've experienced racism or sexism conscious or unconscious bias for people who've been told that they're not a culture fit, and that's kind of the, the end of that piece of vague feedback.

For people who've never in their life, walked into a company and seen somebody that they can identify with who has power and influence in the organization to advance people. We have a lot of work to do as leaders to earn their trust and earnings. Trust is not easy. It's going to take work and I've thought a lot about this.

I've. With and for the same person for a long time, there are a lot of engineers on my team that I've worked with for a long time at multiple companies. And really for me, it just comes down to three things that safety feedback and advocacy. So I'm going to start by talking about safety. I'm so glad that Shabani already covered this.

This is great. So most of you probably familiar with Maslow's hierarchy. You've already got the joke. So right above our basic needs of water, food, and wifi we have to feel physically and psychologically safe at work before we can really begin to do our best work. According to a recent study by the Kapor center for social impact.

This is the tech leavers study that came out this year. Underrepresented people are leaving the tech industry in droves due to unfairness and mistreatment. Women are being sexually harassed at work. LGBT employees are being bullied, men and women of color face stereotyping. Women of color in particular are being passed up for promotions for our teammates.

Can't feel safety and fairness, and secureness at work. Then they're not going to stay on our teams and they're not going to stay in tech either. So providing the most basic amount of safety. Is the first thing that we should be doing as leaders.

So the way that I do this is I start with myself and this is kind of silly, but I try to be as authentic as possible at work and as personal with people. So this is the Beyonce shrine at my desk. This is my, my puppy five dog. And then uplift is the name of our diversity and inclusion umbrella. So these are all the things that are really important to me.

And they're things that I talk about and they're ways that I express myself in one-on-ones. I try to make really personal connections with my employees. I'm about to give a secret that I hope nobody on my team actually. Sees on YouTube. But if, if I'm in a one-on-one and I start asking you for pictures of your kids or your family, I'm probably trying to create some sort of connection with you that might make it easier for us to have tougher conversations in the future.

And I've really seen this work. I had an engineer at a previous company who we would meet every Monday morning and I would come in and I'd ask, how was your weekend? And he got real suspicious and he said it was fine. And at some point I just started telling him about my weekend nothing too personal but just letting him know that it was okay for us to have that type of conversation probably took three meetings before he was telling me about the vacation he was taking and the friends that he was meeting.

And that really started to open us up to have better conversations in the future. So it's a little simple, it's not enough. So it's not enough to just know. Who people are on a personal level. It's not just about making friends. We also have to know about who people are on a cultural level. So I rarely see this acknowledged, but cultural awareness is your job.

And it's not your direct reports job to educate you. It's your job. When we lead people who aren't like us, we can't pretend like we don't understand the things that concern them. We have to be generally sensitive a way. Of things that are happening in our companies, in our communities and our world that are going to affect the way that they show up to work, whether they come in and feel like they just can't be productive that day.

We have to be aware of these things. We have to be open to it, and we're not going to be experts at this. We're not going to know everything. But we should have a general awareness of things like gender pronouns, religious practices, mental health needs. We should understand how stereotypes affect how people come in and do their work.

And the way that we can learn about these things is by diversifying our Twitter follows, diversifying the blogs that we read. The biggest thing for me has been diversifying my own personal friend network because I start to get more of a perspective about what it's like for people who are different from me to show up to.

One pro tip that I have that's maybe a little bit controversial is that if your company has employee resource groups for black employees, for Hispanic employees, for parents, for veterans you should be in every single one of them. At least that's what I do. What I would also say is you should probably.

Talk until, until you feel like you have really, really, truly done the work of an ally. These are groups where you can just have an ear on the ground about the things that are affecting these communities in your office.

So learning about them is one thing, but talking about them is really hard. It feels risky. We're told not to have. Political or religious discussions at work. But what happens when religion bleeds into the Workday? What happens when your identity has been politicized and that's bleeding into your work as well?

So I had an employee or a few employees. Over the summer last summer that that I knew were going to be particularly effected by the murders by the police. And that was a really tough thing for me to bring up. And it's an awkward thing for me to talk about as a white woman, but I know how much it affects my teammates.

And I know that from talking to my friends and I know that it's hard for them to come into work. And to feel like they can really have small talk with people. Like they can be productive. Like they can think about anything other than the safety of their families and their communities. And so I sent an email to my teams.

And then right after I did that, I came across this excellent blog post Laura Hogan, I think has already gotten a shout out. She'll get many more. I'm sure. This is called managering and terrible times, and this is her framework. It's pretty close to the conversation that I had. It was just saying, I want to check in, there are things that I'm reading about somewhere.

This is where being in those employee resource groups can be really useful. And it's okay to talk about it with me. I just want you to know that. And it's also okay. Not to not trying to make any assumptions about how you feel. But just let me know if there's anything I can do to support you. And some people took me up on this and some people didn't and the people who did it really started to form a connection between us that has lasted.

Through the unfortunate next police murders. So of course be aware these comments stations can take you where you don't want to go. You should avoid getting into political debates with people. I have very little filter on my Twitter account. So I've had times where direct reports might come to me and try to engage with me in a debate about something that they disagree with.

And in those cases, I just shut it down and I said, I still support you. I know we don't agree on this, but it's not appropriate for us to have this conversation.

So for having risky conversations, we're going to screw up. It's inevitable. And so what happens if you say something with all your good intentions that you didn't mean that hurts somebody? We rarely talk about how to apologize. If you see people apologize on Twitter, it's never, it's never pretty.

And this is what you do. You say, you're sorry. And you stop there. And you're going to have this urge to defend yourself, to explain that you didn't mean it, but your good intentions, don't absolve you from the harm that you've caused to somebody. And then it's on you to go do your Googles and go read and figure it out.

Why you hurt somebody? This has happened to me is having I've, I've tweeted something before and been called out for it. And the thing was really just sitting with it for like a half a day. And just trying to think about why I had hurt somebody's feelings. And once I got it, I got it. That was it. And so the, you know, the most important thing is to do better.

Your apology doesn't really mean anything. If you don't. So that's what you can do for yourself, but for us as leaders, what happens if maybe somebody is crossing the line within our teams? This is also very controversial. Someone's probably going to take a picture of this, put it on Twitter, and then everyone's gonna yell at me again.

We allow the person who suffered harm to determine the response. And I really want, if you're feeling uncomfortable about this, I want you to sit with it because I want you to know that we don't take this stuff lightly. And I speak as somebody who is underrepresented. That it takes a lot for me to actually report something, to bring something up.

I know that people read this and they're, they're worried about false accusations, but this is really, really important. And where I would start with this actually is don't overreact. And so if there's maybe a comment that's made on your team, that's out of line and your response is to make a big deal out of it to get HR involved.

You haven't created safety on your team. You haven't created an opportunity for learning. The best thing that you can do is shut the conversation down and follow up with individuals afterwards to see what they expect. But I also don't want to say you should not under-react either. And you want to default to believing the person who has suffered harm in this situation, you want to believe the person who has the least amount of pain.

And safety on your team. And then your number one priority should be creating safety for that person. And not at their professional expense. That doesn't mean that you move them off of the team and the work that they love. But it means that you figure out some other way to create safety for them. And you can get HR involved at every step of this.

But if, you know, if somebody doesn't want a big reaction to it, you don't need to have it.

So to sum up on safety create personal connections with people, educate yourself on cultural matters. Don't expect people to do that for you. Make space with your directs for risky conversations. Apologize without getting defensive and then respond appropriately. When safety is fine.

So next, I want to talk about feedback. I think some of this is going to be a little bit of a recap from the last session. If you were here last year at calibrate Tasmeem gave a pretty good primer on feedback. That's very similar to what I do. But I wanted to add just a couple of additional thoughts.

So I gonna start with a poll. How many people here would say that they don't hesitate when they have to give difficult feedback to someone they give it. Cool. All right. Bad news for you. Two-thirds of managers say that they don't hesitate to give difficult feedback to their directs, but most employees say that they rarely get difficult for you.

So either we don't have difficult feedback to give people, or we're kind of, you know, lying to ourselves. Moreover women are 20% less likely than men to say that their manager often gives them difficult feedback. So why is that? This is again from the McKinsey lean in study, we're concerned about being hurtful or mean, or disliked or bias.

And we're afraid of emotions it's already come up. We're afraid of tears. Okay. So this is one of the things that I hear most often from other men. How many people here have had a direct report cry during a feedback discussion. Yeah, all the hands go. Yup. Me too. More women than men or more men than women actually. I also have cried in my own feedback discussions that happen sometimes.

And as managers of humans, we have to get over this fear of human emotion. You've seen it. We've all had to deal with somebody who's crying in a distance. Many men have asked me, oh my God, I'm so worried. I have to give this woman feedback. What do I do if she cries? First of all, that's like a really sexist thing to say, to assume.

But it's really not that deep. You just ask if you're okay, right? Ask if they need a minute, but you can't let discomfort stop you from doing your. Because this is your job giving feedback. When it sucks is your job. And ultimately the most difficult feedback that we need to hear or that we need is the stuff that we need to hear the most.

And we do a disservice to every group that's underrepresented in leadership ranks. When we let our fears take over and prevent us from giving feedback, when it's about. So, again, it's not that deep, we just have to do it. And I think the way that I make it easier is through a framework. And I'm also going to be like, riffing on Shavani is talk here, but I follow the same pattern for everybody.

I think this helps me root out bias. And it also makes these discussions a lot easier. So. This is my structure for feedback. So for every pattern of behavior, I want to change, I will say also it's, it's best to use something structured like this for positive feedback as well. But this is what I run through.

So the first thing is just an observation. This is factual. It's indisputable. It's not, you were rude in that meeting. That's something that's very subjective, but it's you responded to her with that's a stupid.

And then we talk about the impact and the impact is what happened because of that. And how does that relate to my expectations for you? This impacted our ability to have a productive conversation. It impacted our ability to collect.

And then what's my expectation. And I double-check to make sure that my expectation is fair for their level of this is someone senior. I might say. I expect you to set the example for how ideas get proposed and discussed in meetings. And then the last piece that up until today, I've never seen, really brought up is how can I help?

How can I be a partner in this. How can we work on this together? Let's make this a conversation about this feedback and how can I take an active role in your development?

And then what I do is I check myself for bias and I asked myself the same questions every time. The first thing I asked myself is, would I give this same feedback to someone of a different gender or a different race, et cetera. So. What I tell a man to be more aggressive in a meeting. I probably wouldn't.

And so I probably wouldn't say it to a woman either. Am I asking someone to be something that they're not do? I have a team full of extroverts and one introvert, and I really want them to be more vocal. Is it fair? Is it reasonable for me to ask them to interrupt, to be loud? It might not be a reasonable thing to ask for this one is really important.

Have I made a statement about who somebody is or who they tend to be? And this works both ways for positive and negative feedback. So if you're familiar with Karen Snyder, she's the founder of textile. She does a lot of linguistics research. So there's a great article called the abrasiveness trap that I recommend that people look up.

So she did a bunch of studies about. Performance review of feedback. And she found that women and men both tend to get constructive feedback, but men's feedback is geared heavily towards how they can improve. And women's feedback is very much about who they are. And I see this show up in pretty much every piece of pure feedback that I get is tends to be abrasive, tends to be judgmental.

If that's who I am, then I'm going to feel pretty defeated about changing. I also just yesterday saw an article from the Harvard business review about how vague feedback is holding women back. Even when it's positive, it's not tied to a business goal. It's you had a great year, whereas men's will say you deliver this project and then finally asked myself what's sort of the converse of this feedback.

What feedback should I be giving? Two others in addition. So I rarely will be giving constructive feedback to just one person. I might, it might be totally valid for me to ask an introvert, a woman to speak up in a meeting, but it's probably going to be equally as valid for me to ask everyone else in the room to quiet down to ask the tech lead, to pay attention to who's contributing in the meeting and to call on the people.

So sometimes though, you know, we can check ourselves for bias. But we're going to be getting this bias feedback from others as well. So like I said, I see personality penalties all over the place in the peer feedback that I get. And our job is to really filter that feedback and put it in context and turn it into something that's useful.

So this is an engineer. We all know this type of engineer. They're intimidating, maybe a little bit grumpy and they know their stuff but they lash out when people don't meet their standards. And this was also me at some point, my first my first job, I worked with a lot of engineers just like this, and that's sort of the behavior that I learned from.

My boss sat me down. He wanted to give me some feedback and he told me you'll catch more flies with honey. And I was very shocked feedback that did not feel appropriate. But but the important thing was I asked, are you telling the men on my team the same thing. And he said he was it's clear that they weren't hearing it.

But the important thing is that this sparked a really valuable discussion between the two of us, because first of all, I could give him some feedback on his phrasing, but also we could talk about why perception really matters and why perception might matter differently for me than it does for the man sitting next to me.

And that gave me the opportunity to choose what I wanted. Whether I wanted to play in the system or not. And over the years, I feel like I've developed a lot of nuance around how I carry myself, because it is important to me, how people perceive me. And it's very important that we have that conversation and that I knew that he wasn't really holding it against me, but that it might be something that holds me back.

And it also gave me the opportunity to tell him how he could help as well.

So there's Ben some talk about receiving feedback, and I wanted to make sure that this was covered as well. Because this is something that I'm personally working on quite a bit. So, I mean, I can, I can do a poll, but I think I know the answer. How many people ask for feedback on a regular basis? Cool.

How many people get. Right. Exactly. So it never really works to sit down and just say like, Hey, I want some feedback. Can you give it to me? And so there are various things that I've been trying just in order to get more valuable feedback from my job. So the first thing is I try to get really specific, try to make it not so much about me, but about a thing.

And so I had a meeting that I set up, a lot of people had been asking for this regular sort of all hands meeting. I set it up. I could tell it wasn't really useful. People were not engaged. They were in their laptops the whole time. And I didn't want to cancel it because I knew people wanted this meeting, but I wanted to know how I could improve.

And I think I had tried a few just like, Hey, how can I make this better? How can I make it more interesting? But what really works was going one-on-one to a bunch of my engineers, especially the ones that I knew were going to be really receptive to giving me feedback and asking them, how can I make, what is one thing I could add to this meeting that would make it more useful to you?

What would make you get your nose out of your laptop for a half?

Then the important thing I was telling my entire team that I had received feedback, and I was so grateful for this feedback. Thank you so much for telling me this. And so now I'm going to try something else instead. So once I did that, Then the followup. So going back to those individuals, thanking them again for giving me feedback, asking them how they thought it went.

But then also following up with my team and saying, you know, I did this because of the feedback that you all gave me. How do you think that worked? And ever since that first meeting where I did this, I can't have this meeting without someone emailing me afterwards to tell me that was really great this week, or Hey, next time I think we should bring in this other team.

So to sum up on feedback give feedback, especially when it's hard, if it's hard, that's probably a signal that you need to have it. Structure your feedback for consistency across all of your employees. Check yourself for biases. You can use my questions. You can make up your own questions. Be sure that when you're getting peer feedback that you're filtering it, putting it into.

And then publicly acknowledged the feedback that you're getting and be sure that you're acting on it. So we've talked about safety and we've talked about feedback. Maybe that seems like enough. You know, they're not easy, they take work, but if I'm feeling safe at work, I can do my best work. I'm getting fair feedback then.

Meritocracy is going to take care of me. So the meritocracy is a lie. That's a different talk. I'm not going to give that one today. But let's talk about whether me as a woman, I'm even given the ability to prove my merit in the first place. And this means somebody who's advocating for me to get the work that I need to prove myself.

I think this is the most important thing I'm going to talk about. It's not too long, but it's important. And if you were here last year, hopefully you saw Janice Fraser's talk on female career advancement. I've actually pulled quite a few things from this talk and then I'll link to it at the end. It was, it was sort of the talk that really encouraged me to write this talk.

That's been in my heart for so long. So how many people are familiar with the 70, 20 10 rule? No one, it feels like I made it up. So from what I can see, so Jan is referred to this and then I had to, I had to go do some research on it, but it looks like it's not actually something that's rooted in research.

It's just something that a lot of people use. So this rule says that in order to address. 70% of an employee's development comes from stretch assignments. This is on the job learning. This is something that feels maybe like it's not achievable to you. Your boss might think that it's achievable for you.

But it's on the job. Learning 20% comes from personal interaction. So mentorship, sponsorship, advocacy. And then 10% comes from what's called classroom learning. So this might be reading a book. It might be coming to calibrate. It might be attending a workshop. So the section is about advocacy, but obviously we should spend our time talking about stretch assignments.

So the problem, boom, is that stretch assignments are not actually allocated. Fairly in our workplaces. This is the national center for women in tech, a women in tech report. This came out last year. The update came out last year. I think this study is a little bit older but women see themselves getting pushed into what are called execution roles rather than.

Create a roles create a roles are where the real innovative work happens. I think the way that I would think about this is that a creator role would be like here, design a new feature, go write the spec for it. Whereas an execution role is somebody who's written this back. They know all the work here. It's not just that women are not asking for this work.

According to the McKinsey study, more women than men are asking for promotions are asking for new assignments and then they're being penalized when they ask for it because they're being seen as bossy or intimidated intimidating or aggressive.

I want this slide up here in black and white, and I want this to make people really mad. The, the study that this came from a hundred percent of women of color experienced bias in the workplace, 77% of black women experience this particular type of bias, which is called the, prove it again, bias. It's having to do the same work over and over again, to prove that you're performing at your level to prove that you belong.

That's not a stretch assignment. If you have to do the same work over and over again, to prove yourself, you're not being pushed outside of your comfort zone. So we have groups of people who are not getting assigned the proper work that they need to advance and they're being penalized when they ask for it.

And they're having to do the same things over and over again. So what do we do? Here's where the 20%. Personal interaction suddenly becomes very, very important for people who are underrepresented. We have to have sponsors in our workplace who see it as their job to level people up. So leveling up others is your job.

It's your manager's job. It's your tech leads job. For me, it's everyone on my team's job and I tell them they need to figure out ways to free themselves. From their work to go on and do bigger and better things. We don't usually work ourselves out of a job. We find something else to do. And this might seem obvious because we're managers, we're tasked with feedback.

We're tasked with promotion. So of course we're leveling people up. But what we really have to start thinking about is leveling up people who are not like us.

So let's first talk about what sponsorship is. So sponsorship is advocating for people to get access to high visibility and high profile assignments. It means that you throw your weight behind their promotions, you use your political capital to advance them. It means you speak their name when they're not in the room, or when you, as a leader have access to a conversation that they don't have access to.

According to a different study. That's not up here. Men are 45% more likely to have a sponsor than women. And this is because sponsors pick out proteges who remind them of themselves. Again, this is a human thing. As Janice said, it's not sinister. We don't do it on purpose. It's just how we are. But if you think about what our leadership pipeline looks like, then of course, we're going to wind up with men having more sponsors than, yeah.

Developing a diverse team means actively intentionally sponsoring people who are not like us. Yes. So this is how I do it. The first thing is whenever I hear about a team that needs staffing, whenever I hear about a new project that needs a lead, the first thing that my mind goes to is every single under index person in my org.

And this doesn't mean that I don't also speak about the other deserving engineer. On my team. Of course I do. I care about them just as much, but it means that I'm deliberately thinking about the people who are the least likely to have sponsors. It means that I proactively share their interests with people who have influence in the org.

So I did a career planning exercise with one of my engineers. She told me she was very interested in a piece of work that doesn't really belong on my team. But I knew it would probably come up in the. And that was two years ago and I'm still talking about it. So when I'm in a room and people are saying that they need specific type of data, knowledge, her name comes up.

My boss knows about it. My tech lead knows about it. Our architect knows about it. My HR business partner knows about it. I really can't shut up.

And it doesn't really, really have to be something as big as forming a new team or staffing a new project. It could just be publicly endorsing proteges for the things that they're good at. So simply saying Nikki's really good at localization. Every time something related to localization comes up, means something coming from me as a leader in the organization.

And then finally I will identify people on my team that I want to level up and I'll choose a more senior person in my org. And I'll say, I really want to get this person to the next level. What do we have to do? Can you meet with them on a regular basis? What kinds of projects can we find for them so that we can help them advance to the next level?

And then that becomes not just me being responsible for it, but then being responsible for it as well, because also. If I just, if I'm giving feedback and I really want someone to get promoted, it's not going to be enough. Right. It has to come from their peers on the team. Wow. So there's a lot there, but it's really simple sponsor people who aren't like, you make sure that you're speaking their names, hold team members accountable for sponsoring people, not like them as well.

And then final tip is to go watch Janice. Fraser's talk from last year. If you haven't already. I think it has a lot more details in the sponsorship section and sort of what that relationship looks like on both sides. So I highly recommend it. That's it. Thank you.

About Calibrate—

Founded in 2015, Calibrate is a yearly conference for new engineering managers hosted by seasoned engineering managers. The experience level of the speakers ranges from newcomers all the way through senior engineering leaders with over twenty years of experience in the field. Each speaker is greatly concerned about the craft of engineering management. Organized and hosted by Sharethrough, it was conducted yearly in September, from 2015-2019 in San Francisco, California.