An Inclusion MicroTalk

This talk dives deeper on inclusion from the 6 Leadership Disciplines talk, analyzes the data in the blog post on Leading to Representation, and was part of a panel at Blackhat 2023.


Good afternoon, folks. I’m sorry I’m not joining you in person today at Black Hat, but I figured you didn’t want me to infect you all, not with software malware, but with biological malware. Today I’m gonna talk about how to reduce your team’s energy costs, focusing on inclusion. Now, to put in context, this is a leadership discipline we wanna talk about, and leadership only matters in the context of work. Work is when humans take energy and use that to produce value. That’s it. And so leadership is just how do we affect this relationship? Now mostly leadership is about destroying value, right? We exhaust people, we exclude them, we demotivate them, we make them unable to do the work, they’re ineffective and there’s a misalignment, right? And if you want more on this talk, there’s a page that will go into this a lot more deeply. So what we’re looking at is the disciplines to counter this, alignment, planning, development, inspiration, inclusion. and wellness. And inclusion is what we’re going to talk about, which is part of the category of leadership that I think of as support. How do you support individuals versus how do you manage them or exercise authority? So it’s very quick on leadership disciplines. If you want more, again, six leadership disciplines that talk is at that QR code. So let’s look at inclusion. Simplest definition for inclusion is it’s reducing the energy cost that people pay to exist in a space. Wellness is about reducing the cost they pay to show up. In my case, it means I’m not paying the cost of infecting a lot of people on an airplane and they’re to show up. So we’ve managed my wellness here a little bit and all of yours. So the goal here is to look at all the ways that people feel excluded, which is they spend energy that is not productive energy and we want to help them to spend their energy aligned with the mission and actually achieve some value. So there’s three core skills I like to look at here. One is for individuals, right? How do you make yourself not feel excluded, which is don’t always assume that when you have that exclusionary moment that there was ill intent behind it. It might be that somebody was oblivious and they need to learn to not be so oblivious, but it’s very easy for us to spend a lot of energy ranting about a problem that is smaller than what we saw. And it’s also a lot harder to convince people to change when instead of saying, look, what you did was thoughtless, it hurt me. Like, I know you didn’t mean ill, but I’d like you to improve. versus you’re an awful person and you need to change this, one of those is gonna work a little better than the other. At the organizational level, you know, we think about culture, that organization we operate in is a combination of what we celebrate and what we tolerate. So non-inclusive or exclusive behaviors that are tolerated become our culture and perpetuate this continued cost of exclusion. So what we’re gonna focus on today is right here. which is how do you get to more micro inclusions? There’s a thing HR will often talk about when you’re looking at micro inclusions or micro aggressions, micro exclusions, and there’s a sort of stereotype of the boss who comes in and talks about football with one person in the team. And everybody hears this conversation and then the boss goes in, closes their door, gets onto email, because now they’re running late. And what HR will often tell you is stop having that conversation. One person felt included because there was a microinclusion, but everybody else felt excluded because there were no microinclusions for them. The solution for this is not to get rid of a microinclusion, it’s to find other ways. So start to think about, for you, who do you not talk to, not engage with in an organization, and are there ways that you can engage with them? Because that’s how you build inclusion, is people feeling connected, that they feel like they know who you are as a human. because they’re more likely to forgive small errors when those small errors are a counterpoint to lots of positive experience. When there’s no positive experience, then those small errors look like they’re born from malice. Now I’m gonna do a little review of what I did when I was at Akamai. So I used to be the chief security officer for Akamai, and I wanna talk a little about the inclusive effects within that organization. It’s a little bit of an eye chart. If you want to see this in full, the QR code here will actually give you the blog post I drew this from. But what I want to show you is the representation of the last few years when I was at Akamai. I did not start collecting it in my first 16 years in the company, so you only get the last few years. So what you’re sort of seeing here is this sort of rising percentage of women inside the population. You might see this drop from that first sample to the second one. This was a mid-year sample. I did this in the summer. I was doing it every… six months at first until I realized that meant I was counting interns here and not counting interns here. Our summer population was a little bit different. In fact, there’s an interesting story about this cadre that shows up over here in a moment that I’ll get to. But what you’re seeing here is an outcome. And so I’ll talk about the practices, but I just want to give you a visible outcome. This is possible. And like this is 40%. Just to be very clear, we had an organization, 40% women. And if you look here, you’ll actually see that the representation is growing in even senior ranks. This is not just done by hiring and churning junior people. In fact, the last 15 months of this organization, we had zero turnover. So we were keeping people because they felt included. Now it might help that 15 months overlapped with COVID. Not a lot of people were changing jobs at the time. So let’s look at what we did. Right. One thing was we looked at how do we create meeting free windows? Things like flexible Fridays so that people can decide on the last minute to take a Friday off. For those of you who are single, you might be like, great, I got a three day weekend. For those of you who have kids, this lets you say, oh, I’ll schedule my appointments with my kids on Fridays and I don’t have to worry about juggling meetings with my bosses. I’ve become a huge advocate if you’re located in one time zone for not having recurring meetings before 10 a.m. or after 3 p.m. I would love to apply that to myself now. Fortunately, my kids are teenagers, so I don’t need to be free then because I work with a lot of Israelis at West Coasters and I’m located in Boston. So my meeting free window is mostly like 10 to three. You know, we also looked at gradual return to work programs. One of the stupidest things I think in American culture today is when people take a parental leave and you expect them to go from not working at all, managing a small child, to showing back up and working a full work week. And instead what we would do is say, look, you have to come back, you have to touch down for one day. It’s actually required by US labor law around how disability leaves work. But then we want you to flexibly return in. So maybe you’re working half days because that’s what’s appropriate for you for a while. Maybe you only work one or two days a week every week until you really understand, like, do you have a nanny? Are you taking care of people? So build programs like this. Also, very focused on instant messaging and having distributed work excellence. Why does this matter? This matters because you don’t want to have all the knowledge concentrated in a few people. So you wanna make sure that everybody’s getting access to information about what’s going on in the organization to help develop everyone, which comes into continuous development. Most organizations only invest in developing their best contributors, you know, the top 5% would give you opportunities, and their worst contributors, the bottom 5%, we put you on a performance improvement plan so that we can fire you. Everybody in an organization should know what their next two jobs are so that you can plan ahead, be ready to undertake those jobs, get access to the right skills. Your boss understands what those skills are, so as you get access to knowledge, you can start to learn those. And then of course, eliminate spoffs. This is both good for the single point of failure, who’s the only one who knows something, as well as for everyone else. So if you have somebody, and for us we had somebody who got engaged. was a single point of failure on a lot of systems. They were our troubleshooter that we would send in. He would build the system, maintain it, now he’s the only one who understands it. He can’t really disappear for a month to go on his honeymoon. So instead we basically scheduled him for vacations on us, free time off, but the first one, he had to be accessible to everybody so that if something broke, he could explain how it worked, get them going, but it gave him the opportunity to write documentation, to train people, to eliminate that single point of failure. Now what do you get when you do these things? You end up with these flexible work schedules that support more people in your environment. That makes people feel included when they don’t have to stress about getting their kid to a doctor or taking time off for their own medical care. You reduce the proximity bias of the people who are closest to the boss, physically and in meetings, are the ones who get the opportunities because you’ve made sure everybody knows what development opportunities people need and you’ve given people access to information. And here’s the most important part, the Matthew Effect, what’s known as the Rich Get Richer, you’re gonna take advantage of. You’re gonna make everybody in your organization rich so that the rich do truly get richer, but the rich is everybody in your team, not just that top five or 10%. So thank you, I hope you’ve really enjoyed this panel so far and I hope you have some great questions. If you wanna find me and ask me questions, you can find me on LinkedIn, on Twitter, I’m @CSOAndy. Have a fantastic day.



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