3 Lessons on Building Globally Inclusive Teams from a Woman in Tech

Neha Sanjay
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3 Lessons on Building Globally Inclusive Teams from a Woman in Tech

“In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.”

Sheryl Sandberg

Diversity and innovation is the new-age tech culture. It is widely accepted and proved that diverse leadership and teams tend to out-innovate and out-perform the others. But what about diversity and inclusion? Many tech companies fail to understand that creating an inclusive culture is very different from simply creating a diverse workplace and they are often used interchangeably.

Diversity is a measure of human differences along a spectrum of individual and background characteristics, which can include race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, age, sexual orientation, physical ability, social class, religion, and more.

Inclusion is a measure of how effectively an organization enables individual perspectives.

When leading a rapidly-growing startup, handling global teams and working in different timezones, it is very important to create an inclusive global culture.

Leadership Fuels a Culture of Inclusion

Diversity and inclusion begin with strong leadership. Effective leaders understand that diverse talent is critical to long-term success. Also, executives must put these beliefs into practice by working to recognize, promote, and fairly compensate individuals from all backgrounds. 

Over half of women in technology leave the industry by mid-career, according to a recent study by Capital One. The most common reasons why women technologists change careers are:

  • Poor leadership support (23%)
  • Poor work-life balance (22%)
  • Lack of opportunity (20%)

Women who stay in tech are more likely to have access to a female mentor, training, or peer groups. Leaders must commit to creating new systems of support and promotion to retain women and employees from other backgrounds.

Ultimately, executive leadership is tasked with setting the tone within an organization, but building an inclusive culture is an effort that involves everyone. Every contributor is responsible for making others feel valued and treating colleagues with respect. I have learned that inclusion starts with listening to team members. Trusting a contributor’s insights creates an environment where everyone feels they can contribute, grow, and make a difference.  

Actively Control Against Bias

The whole idea of inclusive leadership seems simple enough. But we all have biases – some are conscious and some unconscious – that can derail our attempts at inclusive leadership. It is not easy to eliminate our biases altogether, but the goal is to be aware of them, and work on them. 

Closing the inclusion gap in tech requires active controls against bias and a willingness to examine how bias impacts people. For example, the pay and opportunity gap among women in tech isn’t really a byproduct of education, qualifications, or on-the-job performance. Instead, a glaring example of inequity in the workforce due to unconscious bias. 

Technology can be an important control against bias, but it’s not an automatic solution. Tech products reflect the values of its creators and real-world biases in logic and training data sets.

Transparency is at the Core of an Inclusive Culture

Most inclusive global organizations place a high value on transparency in day-to-day employee interactions. Research by MD Anderson on the world’s most diverse organizations notes “there [should be] no hidden rules of behavior that may be apparent to some groups and unknown to others.” This can create a culture that’s accessible to everyone. 

Transparency also involves working with the individual to create clear expectations around roles and responsibilities as an employee. Employees should be evaluated against actions and performance metrics, instead of opinions. Everyone within an inclusive workforce has a right to understand their goals and expectations, to contribute to building their own success, and to participate in conversation with their leader about how to achieve their goals. 

63% of employees who feel recognized by leadership are unlikely to job search. To better facilitate a two-way flow of communication, open-door policy where team members discuss personal and or work-related is a good starting point. Allowing flexible work hours is an indicator of trust between management and staff, and it ultimately promotes a work culture that embraces diverse working styles. Finally, enabling appropriate personal relationships within the organization and/or team helps build trust and ultimately improves collaboration. 

Good leaders are not just mentors. Tech leaders are stewards for future growth and cultural health. When team members are valued, the organization flourishes. Strong leaders don't take credit for the successes of their subordinates. Instead,  celebrate individual contributions and success that benefits everyone. 

3 Strategies for Building Inclusive Global Teams

Organizations need to think beyond hiring diverse talent to understand the link between diversity and inclusion. Inclusion ensures that new perspectives are represented in decision-making and that employees from all backgrounds feel valued and important. 

  • Think outside the box: Everyone has biases and it's important to understand them, as well as where they come from. Unconscious biases can have an invisible but measurable impact on organization. It’s time to adopt new methods to control against bias and work with diverse teams to deploy anti-bias technologies and policy.
  • Listen early and often: Continually communicate with your teams and value the individual’s identity and perspectives. Ask questions and encourage team members to share their ideas without judgment. Every individual should have an equal opportunity to contribute to discussions, policies, and decisions, especially when it comes to inclusion efforts. 
  • Different notes create a symphony: Hearing the same ideas may feel comfortable, but it can also contribute to complacency. Diverse perspectives drive innovation, because different perspectives benefit the company's vision and the long-term growth trajectory. 


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