We were fortunate to be joined on Red Hat Coffee Hour by Lee Jourdan and Shuchi Sharma for a discussion about diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). We talked about what it is, why it’s important for modern organizations and how best to incorporate it into your workplace.
Lee Jourdan is an experienced champion of diversity, equity and inclusion at the executive level, having served as the Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer (CDIO) at Chevron. Earlier in his career, Jourdan was struck by the lack of people of color making decisions at the highest levels of his organization. He made it his focus to change the company’s culture and make a positive impact.
Shuchi Sharma is Red Hat’s Vice President and Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer. A daughter of immigrants from India, Sharma learned from an early age the value of saving, working hard and contributing to the community—even in the face of racism and other challenges. She was inspired by her grandfather, who was a freedom fighter for India’s independence, to strive for social justice in her own life.
Here are six key takeaways from our conversation with Jourdan and Sharma that can help your organization incorporate DEI in a meaningful way.
1. Frame your business around purpose and inclusion
One great way to frame your approach to DEI is to become a purpose-driven organization—an organization that prioritizes and takes action on something bigger than its products and services. When an organization makes DEI one of its core principles, it prioritizes its stakeholders and focuses on including communities of every different affinity. Such an organization must ensure everyone feels valued, welcomed and heard and that the systems and processes allow fair access to opportunities.
Weaving a sense of purpose into everything your organization does can be a tremendously powerful tool for increasing productivity, building relationships and raising the potential of your business. In such an organization, leaders should take great care that no affinity is excluded, even unintentionally. Prioritizing inclusion is an incredible way to add value, because when people are included, they're more motivated to perform better and be more engaged. By making sure your employees feel included, you can maximize their satisfaction and productivity.
2. Understand why you want to improve DEI
It’s important to articulate the "why" of any DEI initiative. When the reasons for embracing DEI are understood and properly communicated within your organization, employees will feel empowered to make decisions and the culture of diversity and inclusion will to some extent become self-sustaining. You want people to understand the benefits of what they are doing. Above all, inclusion and equity are moral imperatives that will help build a better culture and even a better society. But there are practical reasons for embracing DEI as well.
Here’s a helpful analogy. Sharma suggests that diversity is like an orchestra experience where each instrument plays at a different time, with a different tone and a different character. Yet the instruments come together to create something greater than the sum of its parts. In this way, combining people of many different backgrounds brings together unique combinations of the dimensions that make us human. There is a great deal of power in this concert of abilities to create things that have never been done before.
There is also a competitive advantage to be gained from diversity. Aligning towards a more meaningful purpose can ignite a deeper sense of learning, collaboration and agency for your employees, resulting in greater innovation as people with different ideas co-create solutions.
3. Engage senior leader commitment, because the work is leader-driven
It is the job of senior leadership to create DEI goals, share data, align the organization and drive accountability. It’s important to be cognizant of who might be left out and cover the blind spots that your organization might have and to consider your company hierarchy.
In order to make sure senior leaders are well informed on issues that might not impact their day to day experience, it can be important to break down those hierarchical barriers. Jourdan recommends “mutual mentorship” or “reverse mentorship,” a practice of pairing a leader with an employee with a very different background, to give each an opportunity to learn from the other and understand each other’s journeys.
4. Be intentional about inclusion
Inclusion will not happen in your workplace by accident. It has to be fostered intentionally. It is important to actively seek to broaden the perspectives of employees at your company, bring everyone to the table and identify and remove obstacles for those who face them.
On an individual level, it can be important for those in a position of privilege to be active in asking questions, seeking out conversation and looking for areas to change. Feel free to ask hard questions, step up and don’t be afraid of saying something stupid. True change comes from honest conversations.
It’s important for organizations to discuss what needs to change—but it can be just as important to talk about success stories as well. Celebrating achievements in DEI is a great way to stay motivated and on-track.
5. Prioritize data transparency
Organizations seeking to improve DEI should consider moving towards more transparency surrounding representation and promotion data. By making certain data available to employees, they can help make the trends in their workplace more equitable. Some companies, in addition to sharing data about representation, also share promotion data to ensure there’s no discrepancy in promotion rates between gender, race or other affinities.
Making sure that there’s a light shining on these issues and the information is readily available can help keep that conversation front and center, that the organization’s commitment to change is supported by evidence and that meaningful progress continues to be made.
6. Help your people reach their potential
One of the strengths of a purpose-driven organization is that it allows your employees to embrace their identities. Knowing that we are accepted for who we are has the power to make us all more effective at what we do. An organization that is accepting of employees from all walks of life and every different affinity opens itself to a much larger and more diverse talent pool.
Jourdan gives a great example of a program he worked on that sought to flip the script on neurodiversity by creating an environment friendly to employees who were on the autism spectrum. By ensuring their needs were met, this program helped them reach their potential and several of the interns in the program were later hired full time.
Red Hat’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion
Find out how the Red Hat Academy is equipping individuals from underserved communities with the core system administration and cloud computing skills needed to be successful after graduation. We hope to help their voices be heard in greater numbers among the ranks of tech leadership in the future, both at Red Hat and elsewhere.
With the Red Hat Academy Talent Network, we’re helping to ensure students of the Red Hat Academy find internships and jobs in the industry. And with our no cost training, we hope to remove the financial barrier to success and make IT knowledge available to anyone who wants to learn.
Watch the Red Hat Coffee Hour with Lee Jourdan and Shuchi Sharma and other sessions from inspirational leaders.
About the author
Red Hat is the world’s leading provider of enterprise open source software solutions, using a community-powered approach to deliver reliable and high-performing Linux, hybrid cloud, container, and Kubernetes technologies.