Pushing for Better: How 3 Leaders Practice Inclusiveness

While an inclusive workforce doesn’t happen overnight, company leaders can take these steps to move the needle in the right direction.
Written by Taylor Karg
June 4, 2021Updated: June 9, 2021

Companies that want to realize the full advantages of their employees should prioritize fostering an environment where everyone feels a sense of inclusion and belonging. And while an inclusive workforce doesn’t happen overnight, leaders can take certain steps to move the needle in the right direction. 

The first step, according to Sure’s VP of Engineering Jico Baligod, is ensuring that diversity and inclusion are communicated as core company values. From there, leaders must lead by example and promote processes and behaviors that exemplify these values. 

After the foundation has been laid, it’s important to incorporate diversity and inclusiveness in each aspect of the company — from hiring to meetings and more. How so? Baligod, along with Lever’s Engineering Manager Alex Choi and BlackLine’s VP of Engineering Vinod Malhotra share best practices below. 

 

Jico Baligod
VP of Engineering

According to Baligod, VP of engineering at insurance technology company Sure, one aspect of fostering an inclusive culture is creating space for everyone’s ideas and opinions to be heard. In order to achieve this, Baligod creates an open flow of communication in company syncs and one-on-one meetings. 

 

From your experience, what is the key to being an inclusive leader, and why?

Building a company culture of diversity and inclusion doesn’t happen automatically. As leaders, it’s our responsibility to not only support an inclusive culture but to make an active effort to create and foster one. First, diversity and inclusion needs to be communicated as core company values. From there, we need to lead by example by promoting processes and behaviors that exemplify these values.

​A key process to focus on is the building block of every company — hiring. At Sure, we strive to employ equitable hiring practices to build an interview process that supports candidates of all backgrounds. We make a conscious effort to eliminate bias, instead focusing on hard and soft skills, and an alignment to company values.

​By communicating company values and demonstrating them regularly, leadership lays down a solid foundation for others to follow. With that said, it’s the rest of the team that truly builds and maintains a company culture of belonging. If you hire great people who align with your core company values, keeping an inclusive company culture alive should feel effortless.

 

What’s a real-life example of your inclusive leadership style in action?

One aspect of fostering an inclusive culture is creating space for everyone’s ideas and opinions to be heard. This can be challenging with a fully remote team, especially in large group meetings. If I’m the person driving the meeting, one question I like to ask during a discussion is, “Does anyone have any opposing opinions?” I find this explicit prompt helps provide opportunities for others to join in on the conversation.

​With any diverse team, there will be people who aren’t as outspoken or comfortable in large group settings. That’s why it’s also important to create different forums such as smaller group meetings or one-on-ones. At Sure, we have standing weekly one-on-one meetings between managers and individual team members. These standing meetings serve as another opportunity for everyone to share feedback, express their ideas and feel heard.

As leaders, it’s our responsibility to not only support an inclusive culture, but to make an active effort to create and foster one.”

 

It’s hard to be an inclusive leader unless you’re aware of your blind spots and biases. What steps have you taken to identify and address your own? And what impact has that had on the way you lead?

Working in isolation is an easy way to become oblivious to your own biases, so it’s important for our team to collaborate closely together on internal processes and with everyday work.

On a process level, one thing I’m conscious of is affinity bias in our hiring pipeline. It’s easy to prefer people who you get along with, to the point where you may end up screening out other qualified candidates with different personalities. We mitigate this bias by focusing on skills as objectively as possible, on culture “add” instead of “fit,” and on their alignment with our company values. We also have several team members meet with the candidate and then discuss hiring decisions as a group.

On a day-to-day basis, we all do our best to praise in public and criticize in private. We encourage everyone to highlight each other’s positive contributions and behaviors. Doing so reinforces our company culture and brings us closer as a team. Just as important is our proactiveness in providing constructive feedback when we recognize areas for improvement. Our weekly one-on-ones become a crucial forum for supporting personal and professional growth in this way.

 

Alex Choi
Engineering Manager

In order to address his own blind spots and biases, Choi, engineering manager at HR tech company Lever, challenged himself with new perspectives and opinions. He began this process by following and reading influential people from different backgrounds outside of his own. By doing so, Choi said that he was able to turn what may have been empty actions into those that helped create change. 

 

From your experience, what is the key to being an inclusive leader, and why?

The key to being an inclusive leader is following through with your commitments. For example, the conversation around diversity, equity and inclusion is never over, even if we “hit” our goals. We constantly have to check ourselves and ask, “How can we continue to improve?”

We may have good percentages in our staff (for diversity), but can we follow through on more? Is there equity compensation included? Are there opportunities for employees to grow to a leadership role? Are team members from underrepresented groups actually staying at equal rates? As a leader, you need to push beyond complacency and push for the better.

 

What’s a real-life example of your inclusive leadership style in action?

I helped source candidates and build a team from the beginning. DEI initiatives are part of hiring, promotion and compensation discussions, as well as team interactions and cohesiveness. So as I built the team, I kept DEI in mind. Once they were more established, I made sure that when we did bring in someone from a different background, they were not isolated. I connected them with existing employee resources groups as well as people on other teams to help them feel connected at an organizational level. 

As a leader, you need to push beyond complacency, and push for the better.”

 

It’s hard to be an inclusive leader unless you’re aware of your blind spots and biases. What steps have you taken to identify and address your own? And what impact has that had on the way you lead?

Steps that I have taken to be a more inclusive leader include listening and reading a lot. Specifically, I started following and reading influential people from backgrounds (ethnicity, gender, religion and sexual identity) outside of my own. This is really only the first step. It’s easy to pick up a book, skim through it, agree or disagree, and call it a day. I challenged myself to consider things with new perspectives and opinions. When I saw something I didn’t necessarily agree with or feel comfortable with, I would assess how I felt, acknowledge my discomfort and ask myself, “How could I make this situation better?”

It’s not an easy task, but what could have been empty actions from me turns into following through. When we truly incorporate uncomfortable ideas and facts, we can push toward stronger action and support additional team members.

 

Vinod Malhotra
VP of Engineering

At fintech and software company BlackLine, each candidate is interviewed by four or more individuals in order to promote diversity and fairness in the hiring process. Malhotra said that this process helps the interviewers uncover any of their own blind spots and be more objective.

 

From your experience, what is the key to being an inclusive leader, and why?

BlackLine is a growth company. To sustain growth, we need differentiation that comes from delivering innovative solutions to a diverse set of customers and markets. Diverse ideas coming from individuals with varied perspectives are the bedrock of innovation. The best ideas emerge from the cross-pollination of seemingly different and sometimes contradictory ideas. Therefore, it all starts with building a diverse organization that represents a variety of abilities, cultures and demographics. 

Inclusiveness nurtures and sustains diversity. Being an inclusive leader means respecting different thoughts and viewpoints, allowing different workstyles while focusing on outcomes, giving equal opportunities to all, fair and equitable hiring, fostering transparency, and creating a safe environment to discuss and debate ideas. The signature personality traits of an inclusive leader include self-awareness to avoid biases, cross-cultural agility, empathy, curiosity, and flexibility to deal with the ambiguity and the complexity of running a diverse organization. Inclusive leadership not only makes business sense, it also aligns with my personal values and sense of fairness.

 

What’s a real-life example of your inclusive leadership style in action?

I have been fortunate enough in my career to have worked in multiple countries for a diverse set of companies, ranging from small startups to large multinationals with geographically distributed teams. BlackLine is no exception, as our engineering team is spread across six locations in five countries. Being mindful of time zones while setting up conference calls is the first step in being inclusive in a geographically distributed team. People, projects and processes are transparently shared through digital tools. 

To foster deeper engagement at a personal level, travel from one site to another was common before the COVID-19 pandemic, and we expect it to resume in the near future. I hold regular skip-level one-on-one meetings with team members to gauge their perspectives and solicit feedback. In addition, I have an open calendar policy. Any team member can block time on my calendar to share ideas, feedback or concerns. Recently, our monthly “Committed to Excellence” award program was expanded to all teams in product and technology across locations, and everyone is empowered to nominate any individual or team who meets the criteria.

Inclusiveness nurtures and sustains diversity.”

 

It’s hard to be an inclusive leader unless you’re aware of your blind spots and biases. What steps have you taken to identify and address your own? And what impact has that had on the way you lead?

Whether we like it or not, based on individual experiences and beliefs, each one of us, including me, has biases. Therefore, it takes conscious efforts to identify and address them. For example, to promote diversity and fairness in hiring, each candidate is interviewed by four or more individuals in product and technology. There have been times when my assessment of a candidate did not align with that of other interviewers. Their insights and feedback helped me uncover my blind spots.

Similarly, I introduced calibration of annual performance assessments with other managers to make the merit increase and promotion process more objective and equitable. I have also participated in 360-degree feedback assessments and unconscious bias training programs offered by BlackLine’s learning and development team. These interventions have been beneficial in uncovering my biases and arming me with the right tools and techniques to address them. It is a journey to keep myself growing as an inclusive leader.

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