March 8, 2018

"Can We All Just Get Along?" - The Importance of Inclusion

In 1992, former taxi driver Rodney King uttered the emotional words, "Can we all just get along?" in response to the police brutality that left him beaten and the city of Los Angeles in a state of riot. While I might suggest we haven’t made tremendous strides towards his request over the last two-and-a-half decades (some Americans might suggest we are actually going backward), the notion of inclusion that King nods to is more critical now than ever. Don’t fear: I’m not turning this into a political rant, I’m just going to share a different view on approaching the topic of inclusion.

Zoom ahead to 2018. It’s hard not to open your news feed in the morning and be faced with a plethora of articles, stories, and perspectives about diversity and inclusion. Whether they are on the offense or defense, a vast number of companies and industries are now spending focused time, energy, and resources to address these challenges. As a tech company with a majority male staff, we too are digging deep to ensure Rapid7 becomes part of the solution rather than contributes to the overall problem.

Similar to many companies, we are actively revamping our recruiting efforts, enablement of managers and leaders, and contribution back to our community to help invest in women and underrepresented minorities as part of the longer-term solution. And while we are surrounded by numerous other companies pursuing their own path to balance diversity, we are all acutely aware there is no overnight solution.  For those of us in growth companies or who have become accustomed to seeing quick results when we focus our energies, this can be incredibly frustrating. In other words, when we put the effort and energy in, we hope to find immediate gratification. So what can we all do to move the dial while we pursue our longer-term goals?

Focus on King’s simple question. In other words, change how we approach inclusion.

Before I tackle any challenge, I typically spend an inordinate amount of time exploring the “why” behind it. As I’ve shifted my efforts to spend a significant portion of my energy on diversity and inclusion within our company, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time digging into why I believe this is so critical for us. Aside from believing it is just morally the right thing to do, there is a significant business driver. Ultimately, if we are going to continue to pioneer and innovate new products to lead our industry and provide solutions to make our customers more successful, we require a diversity of mindsets to accomplish this. That requires us to seek out people who think and engage in the world in a manner that is different to ourselves. And guess what? By definition, that typically means these people come in slightly different packaging than ourselves.

Let me break it down with what I hope is a relatable (and yet rather vulnerable and embarrassing) analogy.

In business, we tend to think in terms of “culture fit.” In our dating lives, we think in terms of “type.” When someone has historically asked me what my type is, I have often referred to some answer like “Jason Momoa in a suit.”  In my mind, that is a fairly comprehensive and broad depiction of what I am attracted to.  Edgy, irreverent and fun-loving on the outside, but can yet pull it all together. There’s one huge missing piece to that, however. The “ a suit” reference to me is the physical representation of a business or a serious thinker. I don’t know Jason, nor his overall intelligence level, so there is no intended ding on him. My point is that when I am describing my “type,” I am probably outlining a really narrowly focused version of what I’m attracted to; a guy who looks like that but has the mind and drive of an executive. This thinking might explain why I am single and is forcing me to be more inclusive about what’s truly complementary to me.

Let me now apply that same thinking to what I think we are sometimes “attracted” to at work. We often want to build our teams with people who think or act like us. You’ll often hear hiring managers excited about a new hire to their teams because the person is a great “culture fit.” And while we can all get our heads around the notion that of course, we want to surround ourselves with people who inherently think and behave like us, this is a really slippery slope.

Instead, I’d challenge all of us to think about true inclusion. By this, I mean the basic human right of embracing all people, regardless of race, gender, disability, sexual preference, etc. When we think and behave this way, we provide equal access and opportunity for all, as well as remove barriers that are getting in the way of this happening. I’d argue when we shift our mindset, we shift our ability to be even more successful in business (or in dating).

So, how the heck do we do this? To ensure your diversity efforts are supported with the critical foundational focus on inclusiveness, read on for five ways for each of us to move this dial immediately.

Seek Out Perspective From Someone New & Different.

Typically, our teams are structured so that we sit near and/or work with people who have expertise in a particular area (think sales, product marketing, people strategy, etc.). Many of us have “go to” people on our teams or a handful of folks on other teams who we use as our trusted advisors. Challenge that status quo approach. If you are in marketing, for example, to reach out to someone in your products team today and ask their opinion on something you are working on. This doesn’t have to be a big time sink; just go invest 15 minutes in seeing what questions or insights this new perspective provides you with. It’s a really simple way to connect with others outside of your everyday go-to group, and potentially further your thinking along the way.  

Move Around

Many workplaces are becoming a little more forward thinking in terms of not having to be chained to your desk all day to accomplish your work. When you have the opportunity, go find a new place to park yourself, even for just a little while.  Whether it is in your office cafe, a different team area, or even if you leave to go sit in a coffee shop for a bit, you’ll likely be shocked at how moving your chair can really shift your perspective. You might find yourself engaging in conversations with people you don’t normally speak with, especially if you head to a location where there is a consistent flow of people. This small action can lead you to foster conversations not normally had, and that might lead you down the path of new ideas and thinking differently.

Change Up Who’s In Charge  

Whether you are the team leader or just a participant, request that different people take a turn leading team meetings. Often times, we can fall into a rut with hashing through the same agenda over and over, or listen to the same people dominate the conversation while others remain quiet or unengaged. We can change up that dynamic by alternating meeting leadership. As the team leader, while you may need to provide some basic parameters and meeting goals, allow your team members with an opportunity to apply their own approach. This allows the team to get even more engaged, and signals that everyone’s input is valued and welcome. Try this, and watch the participation level and discussion effectiveness skyrocket.

Stop Making Assumptions

Unless we are a raging extrovert, sometimes it’s just plain awkward to get over ourselves and connect with people outside of our safe circle. When we hold back from being more inclusive in our interactions with co-workers, we risk making assumptions about them. The danger in this can lead to misunderstandings, biases, and just plain wrong information. The next time you hesitate to collaborative with another person, push yourself past the assumption that she might be too busy for you, or might think your question isn’t worthy.  Take the bold move, and seek their opinion and insight. Even if their response supports your original assumption, you can now act from a more informed place to dig a little deeper and change up the dynamic going forward.

Connect about life, not work

The one thing everyone shares in common in a company is work.  And yet, regardless of how passionate we all might be about the work we do, none of us are uni-dimensional - we all have outside lives and varied interests.  Taking the time to get to know your colleagues outside of the normal work discussions opens up an entirely new way of interacting with one another. At Rapid7, we’ve tackled this through our InsightCoffee program, where we will pay for the coffee when two random people get together and invest a bit of time getting to know each other.  Such a simple action, but it allows people to break down barriers, make new connections, and gain insight into what makes each of us unique and special outside of the office.  As an added bonus, each coffee duo will post a selfie and their learnings on a Slack channel, so everyone gets to benefit from their discussion. There are a million ways for a company to approach inclusion, but the purpose is really straight-forward. When we disrupt our everyday patterns and engage in new ways with new people, we stand to improve relationships, communication, and ultimately inclusiveness.

Diversity and inclusion are incredibly important topics in today’s business climate. Both focuses can be vast and intimidating to tackle, primarily because there are no quick and simple answers.  If we stop thinking of this work as an initiative, and rather approach it as a shift of mindset, every single person in your organization can participate and move the dial to ensure you have an inclusive workplace as you make progress on the heavy lifting of creating a more diverse population.  My colleagues just brilliantly summed it up this way: diversity is a discipline...inclusion is a decision.

I challenge each of us to make the decision and take one (or all!) of the actions above to move this dial for ourselves, our teams, and our companies. By opening our minds, we gain the opportunity to create a place where each and every one of us can thrive.

Christina Luconi is Chief People Officer for Rapid7. Follow her on Twitter: @peopleinnovator.