“The money can be great and it can have all the other perks but am I a part of this? In the long run, will my mental and emotional health survive? You have to be honest with yourself. It’s one thing to be included in the conversation but It’s another to have your thoughts and opinions taken into consideration at work,” said Marie Roker Jones, Entrepreneur and Diversity Advocate. Critical questions to ask when evaluating any professional situation. She added, “We all want to be part of something, right? And when we’re not, it feels like you’re making the effort but your heart’s not in it.” Exactly.
Countless studies show that diverse teams outperform their homogenous counterparts. But women and people of color remain underrepresented in leadership. Everywhere. And in technology, more than half of women leave before they turn 35.
Why? Layers of systemic biases have made tech unfriendly for women. And with everyone busier than ever, few choose to navigate differences. Which keeps the status quo and leaves the underrepresented out.
But what if there’s a diversity hack? An inspired short cut to the trust that bonds people from different backgrounds?
Solve Problems With Strangers
Catalyst reports, “The few women who begin careers in STEM face male-dominated workplaces with high rates of discrimination. Their contributions are often ignored; they experience isolation caused by lack of access to women peers, role models, and mentors; and they are paid less than their male co-workers.”
Marie is on a mission to use hackathons to bring women and people of color into the lucrative, yet homogenous, tech field. She said, “A lot of people think hackathons are for young guys. So, we’re doing away with that to show they’re just the foundation for building solutions.” Brilliant! She added, “And it’s also an opportunity for women to network with each other and gain access to mentors.”
Change Hearts and Minds
Marie has seen talented people, whose skills are often overlooked, discovered while working with people they’ve never met. “Mentees are leading or bringing their expertise onto a team and have access to other women who can give them insight into the next steps for their careers. It’s building this system that really supports the participants and brings solutions to the employers. Because now they don’t have to sift through resumes or wait for applicants. They can actually see in real time what these women are capable of bringing to their company.” A win for everybody.
And Get Better Results
Marie said, “What I hear from hiring managers is that (lack of diversity) is a sourcing problem. So, I push it back to them and say, well how wide is your network? Who are you reaching out to?” The hackathon, is a powerful way to let diversity shine and open up a field that has favored insiders.
Marie described a recent event, “Our winning team had three women, one man and one high school student who was also male. And he said, ‘I didn’t have as much experience as these women did but they taught me what I needed to do and they never judged me for not having as much experience.’ A beautiful thing! And I thought to myself, what if women had that opportunity to be brought in, to learn and to not be judged for what they don’t know, instead of trying to always prove that they’re valuable? So, that’s the best part, seeing hackathons bring people together.”
Reach the Professional Holy Grail, Belonging
Tech is one of the fastest growing sectors. And if we’re not designing the products of the future, we lose more than convenience as consumers, but opportunities to lead and shape our economic destiny. “There are employers doing a great job with diversity, others with inclusion but there are very few that do a great job of making people feel like they belong.” Exactly! “People join groups, because that belonging is what so many of us crave. And I’d love to see more employers not just hiring and saying ‘we’ve done it, you’re included’ but to look closer, does that woman feels like she belongs there?”
The lack of diversity feeds internal doubts for women interested in tech. Marie shared, during a networking night with mentees impostor syndrome kept coming up. “Some women think, ‘I have to work 10 times harder because if I drop the ball then they’re going to see me as the weak part of the team. And that just snowballs into consistently trying to prove, ‘I’m worthy of being here’ even once they’re hired. We all have moments where we question our abilities, no matter how great we are,” Marie said. True! And women are prone to perfectionism and believing their inner-critic.
Managers Play a Key Role
Although systems change takes time, it’s the people managers, not the CEO, who influence diversity and inclusion at work. Marie said, “I worked with a supervisor who did an amazing job of creating a space for everyone to feel they belonged. Whether you were the intake coordinator or a director, you were seen. It was her transparency, the opportunity to be vulnerable and not be judged for that vulnerability. Also, she set protocol so that no one else could judge you for that vulnerability.” So important. Marie said, “We’re really talking about emotional intelligence and how you bring that to a team.”
And Everyone Needs to Bring Emotional Inteligence to Work
Marie admits it’s challenging to create psychological safety at work. But with intention and patience, it’s possible. She said, “How do you bring that emotional intelligence without making people feel as if they are wrong? Software engineers speak in a different way and sometimes they are very short and to the point. And not everybody receives that in the same way. Somebody might think, ‘that person is being very rude to me’. And someone else may see it as, ‘this is how we do work.’ So, how do you get someone to be mindful of how they communicate in the moment, without changing who they are? That’s what we’re working on. So teams can be more inclusive and make people feel they belong. Because once you tell people they’re wrong, they shut down.”
Change Making Requires Energy, Energy Requires Self-Care
Solving big problems consumes a lot of energy. How is Marie making the space? She said, “Honestly, from day to day I’m figuring it out. Because we’re human, because we’re in a pandemic and because people are unpredictable, my days can totally shift.” Sigh. Marie said, “self-care is setting healthy boundaries. I’ve learned, I can set all the boundaries I want but if I haven’t enforced them, they’re just up there in the wind. So, for me, I try to be more vocal now to say when I need some time. Whether it’s going to my room with ice cream and watching something on Netflix that’ll make me laugh or reading a book. Then, I’m good to be with everybody else. I don’t want to be moody and angry but that’s what happens when I don’t get that moment to reset.” Amen to that!
Marie Roker-Jones is the co-founder of Essteem, a social impact startup and has over ten years of experience in leading gender and racial diversity strategies. She has helped tech companies and startups with their diversity hiring goals through Veteran and military spouse initiatives. Marie also has workforce and career development experience creating workforce re-entry programs for underrepresented communities and has facilitated dialogue in racial healing and debiasing through #CompassionConvos.