What does it mean to consciously design a workplace that allows people to showcase their most authentic selves? This is a question I’ve been wrestling with since attending this year’s WorkHuman conference in April in Austin, Texas. WorkHuman is an annual conference hosted by Globoforce dedicated to bringing people together to discuss, debate, and brainstorm new and innovative ways to bring humanity back into the modern workplace.
I was drawn to the conference as soon as I saw its star-studded line up. Amal Clooney, Salma Hayek, Brene Brown, and a #metoo panel featuring founder Tarana Burke, Ronan Farrow, and Ashley Judd were just a few of the incredible people headlining this year’s event. Sign me up, please!
Though the broader theme of the week was making the workplace more empathetic and more human, this year’s focus really narrowed in on what it means to be a woman in the workplace today, particularly in the wake of the #metoo movement. This is a topic near and dear to my heart, as someone who graduated with a dual history and Spanish degree, with an emphasis on gender studies in both, and as a woman in the professional workforce. Here are a few of my key takeaways from the week, and how we’re incorporating them into our daily life here at Jilt and SkyVerge.
Actress, producer, and activist Salma Hayek was the first keynote speaker. She spoke candidly and fiercely about the various barriers to entry she’s faced in her career to date. Early in her career, she told us, she was not taken seriously as an actress in the U.S. because she was Mexican. “There were no roles for me. I couldn’t even get an audition, because those roles that did exist ‘weren’t for Mexican girls,’ I was told. It’s so strange that a country built by immigrants can be so judgmental.” Now critically acclaimed for much of her work, she made a point to highlight how hard she had to work just to get a foot in the door.
Of course, with the benefit of hindsight, we read that now and think to ourselves how foolish people were to overlook Hayek. But the truth is that without awareness of our own implicit bias–unquestioned assumptions and notions–we can unknowingly perpetuate similarly challenging barriers to entry for people who want to work at our companies, or in our fields. As a software company in the predominantly male tech industry, we’re really trying to be mindful of this and maintain an open, honest dialogue about our own hidden biases and how they may negatively impact our recruiting and hiring process. We engage in a constant dialogue around the biggest diversity and inclusion issues in tech with the goal to continually iterate our current process.
For example, when I first started posting our open positions, I didn’t question our choice of job boards, nor critically analyze the way our job postings were written. This is exactly the sort of behavior that, in and of itself, may seem innocuous, but over time can result in an imbalanced workforce. It is precisely the sort of thing Amal Clooney referenced in her keynote when she spoke about the power of the individual to make a difference, even when it seems minor in the grand scheme of things.
To ensure that our postings are being viewed by a broad enough audience, we’re looking to organizations like Werk and PowertoFly, which are specifically dedicated to improving gender diversity and inclusion in the workforce. We’re also excited to try out Textio, a service that uses machine learning to analyze and compare your job posting with thousands of others to more intentionally assess how inclusive your writing is.
Building an inclusive culture
Of course, attracting an even mix of qualified applicants is just the beginning. The bulk of my day-to-day work at Jilt and SkyVerge revolves around creating and encouraging a company culture that reflects our values and guiding principles. While Hayek primarily spoke about her experiences with barriers to entry, the #metoo panel took a broad-lens view of what happens once you’re through the door. The panel examined how toxic work environments come to exist, and why all of us should feel emboldened to critically analyze the systems and processes that create our company cultures. Tarana Burke reminded us that, “you can’t change policies after you find things out, you have to change the culture before. Companies that are serious about systemic change need to ask about the culture you’re creating… hurry up and take your time. We want long-standing sustainable change; don’t put bandaids on it.”
As a fully remote company, our “office culture” is very different from the type of cultures that were being described during the panel. There are no break rooms, no cubicles, no elevators. We work from six countries and seven U.S. states, and our watercooler conversations (and important sharing of cat memes) take place in Slack channels.
It struck me that the very nature of how we work here at Jilt is part of our work culture, in that we specifically designed, and continue to improve upon, this environment with the goal of attracting and retaining top talent of all genders. A healthy work environment that is authentically founded on the best interests of the team members will breed a healthy company culture–you can’t separate the environment from the culture or vice versa.
To that end, a remote workforce is an incredibly powerful tool for social change. The combination of working from home (and not in isolation from the rest of the team; an entirely remote company eliminates the tricky dynamic of a mixed in-office and telecommute team) and flexible hours create an environment in which women can continue to excel, with fewer pressures in regards to work-life integration.
Of course, it’s not just beneficial for women–it’s helpful for all parents. Many of our team members are young parents, and it’s a beautiful thing to watch both fathers and mothers share “brb, picking the kids up from school” or “working a later shift today, I’m taking my kids to the park this AM” updates in Slack.
This aligns with our approach to the age-old work-life balance conversation; we view it as more of a work-life integration. By acknowledging the two will never exist in perfect, equal parts, we necessarily value results over time spent by default. We rely heavily on leadership to set clear, realistic expectations for results, and then expect our team members to design their own schedules in whatever way they feel necessary to achieve those results. This creates an environment in which our team is not measured by how many hours they put in, or whether those hours fall within the traditional “9 to 5” framework, but rather focuses explicitly on the quality of their work (as inspired by the ROWE approach). By doing so, our team members can optimize their time for getting work done rather than for social optics.
As I continue to reflect on the conference, I’m keenly aware that this is just the beginning. Currently, I’m hopeful that as our team continues to read, research, and attend conferences such as this one, we will naturally incorporate this awareness and mindfulness into all of our company practices, both large and small. The end goal (ever evolving and shifting, of course) is to keep providing and improving upon our holistic, results-oriented environment that naturally lends itself to a team of happy, mindful, and caring employees. With that framework, hopefully, we can more intricately address the bigger questions of what it means to be an active and mindful remote company in the #metoo era.
Lead image via Lars Plougmann, CC, Flickr