Recently, I had the honor of joining the panel for the Massachusetts High Technology Council’s virtual event: Unconscious Bias – Advancing an Inclusive Workplace. The event was hosted by PTC, with joint programming led by Bentley University’s Center for Women and Business.
PTC’s CEO Jim Heppelmann opened this important dialogue by introducing the need for a diverse and inclusive workplace, and how we at PTC strive to create this type of environment. He setup the introduction to our moderator, Trish Foster, who kicked off the webinar and led us through a number of interactive practices before introducing the talented panelists: Stephen Denny, Nellie Borrero, and myself.
The event was divided into six sections and not one was more important than the other. The sections were: (1) what is an inclusive culture, (2) employees lived experiences, (3) diversity, equity, and inclusion concepts, (4) viewpoints and experiences – panel discussion, (5) identifying solutions – breakout rooms, and (6) final thoughts. I want to take you through a recap of the event, and share information that resonated with me.
Trish’s first overarching point was the importance of the word “inclusive” and having inclusive cultures. At the start of the event, Trish led attendees through an interactive practice of defining what the word “inclusive” meant to us (via the Zoom chat box). This broke down barriers early on and allowed participants to feel nurtured in a safe and brave space that everyone could speak and share their insights.
Through further conversation, we learned inclusive cultures are characterized and nurtured by trust, encouragement, empathy, and a shared sense of value and purpose. Having an inclusive culture promotes the knowledge of employees so they feel empowered to contribute to decision making, policies, and processes. However, you cannot have an inclusive culture without inclusive leaders. These leaders create genuine and human connections amongst all employees and provide their employees with what they need to succeed. They demonstrate humility, empathy, and learning agility.
‘Empathy’ was brought up a few times through this conversation, and it resonates deeply with me. The executive team and I work hard to make sure we connect with PTC employees. We understand everyone has a life outside of work, and we do what we can to support personal and professional goals. I host (virtual) bi-weekly Monday morning socials and Thursday afternoon socials as a way to connect with my team in the age of COVID-19. PTC hosts company-wide virtual meeting where we review company initiatives and progress toward our goals but also leave time for a talent portion at the end. Employees from all over the world share their talents, which leads to further connections and comradery amongst the company.
It is important to show your teams that you are invested and interested in them as a whole person, and not just their work output. A quote that I found important from this section was from Uniphore Founders Ravi Saraogi and Umesh Sachdev, “Empathy trumps money: every minute, every day.” This conversation setup a great segway to our next topic.
Women have been carrying a disproportionate load of household and childcare responsibilities for some time, but this is even more evident during the COVID-19 pandemic. Trish talked through some alarming statistics that many women in the workplace have to face daily:
I, like many of you, continue to be shocked by these sobering statistics. Though the statistics might be discouraging, it only makes it evident that we need to work together to drive change in diversity, equity, and inclusion. Driving change is difficult, but a way to start is having shared languages to address our diversity, equity, and inclusion challenges.
Having a shared language around diversity, equity, and inclusion means that we must have concrete definitions and understanding. Trish drove the discussion on how we need to understand diversity, equity, and inclusion through the following definitions:
By understanding these definitions, we were able to refer to Jim’s opening remarks and reflect on how we all have a responsibility to promote diversity. At PTC, we strive to promote a diverse work environment, but we (as does everyone) need to be better at inclusion. Trish explained an excellent example from Goldman Sachs on how you can have a diverse workforce that is not inclusive. At Goldman Sachs, 25.6% of its U.S. professional workforce are Asian American. However, of this group of individuals, they only represent 14.5% of U.S. executives and senior managers, and none of them are officers.
After gaining insight from these statistics, Trish took us through a larger conversation around unconscious bias, social stereotypes, and micro-inequities. One term that caught my attention through the conversation was intersectionality. Intersectionality recognizes that none of us live by one identity. How we live and interact create our fixed experiences that impact how we experience the workplace. Organizations cannot be solving for the gender or race problem because everyone is defined by multiple identities. And, a lot of the times our identities are “invisible,” they aren’t something you notice right away when shaking someone’s hand or meeting someone for the first time. These invisible traits impact us much more than people can perceive.
Trish was brave enough to share her intersectionality as a cancer survivor, not something you would know unless she confided in you. One of my intersectionalities is around fertility – I wouldn’t have my two beautiful children without the reproductive technology of In Vitro Fertilization (IVF). For many years I balanced a demanding work schedule, IVF treatments, miscarriage and the emotional roller coaster of trying to conceive. The process was challenging, and it put an incredible amount of strain on my physical and emotional health. Most people I interacted with during the workday had no idea I was going through this process – it was invisible to them, but very much part of my daily life. I sought out supportive colleagues and friends to lean on and confide in. This is one of my invisible identities and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
In order to further understand these concepts, Trish turned the discussion over to the panelists, which was my favorite part of the event. I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about the real-life experiences of Nellie and Stephen, and how we can work together to actively address intersectionality and inequality.
The idea of the panel was to provide personal insight during a discussion around overcoming challenges related to unconscious bias in the workplace. Nellie, Stephen, and I were able to discuss personal examples of micro-inequities, unconscious bias, and the steps we are taking to become inclusive leaders and inclusive workplaces. Nellie shared her experiences as a Latina woman in the workplace, Stephen shared his experience coming to America from Barbados and the steps he had to take in order to hold the position he does today, and I shared my experiences as a woman leader in technology.
As the four of us discussed our life and work experiences, Nellie left us with sound advice around dismissing unconscious bias, “If you are in a room with a group of people, and there is a person who is the ‘only of,’ we have to let that person in. If we don’t let that person in, we are labeling that person to not have a voice, opinion, or value.”
There are many more examples of unconscious bias in the workplace, and our hope with this panel discussion was to bring light to the situations and provide actionable takeaways to help create authentic and inclusive cultures.
At PTC, we take both an executive and grassroots effort to help drive awareness around diversity, equity, and inclusion. This comes from our executive leadership team, but we have many employees who are passionate about the cause. These employees participate in a number of employee resource groups at PTC, making sure people are aware of the importance and necessity for an inclusive workplace.
Our panel discussion led us to individual breakout rooms, where we were able to connect with attendees on a personal level. The categories were (1) people and culture, (2) the onboarding experience of diversity, equity and inclusion, (3) how to speak up in meetings with a diverse group, (4) leadership and governance, and (5) culture.
It was insightful to hear different experiences from employees across race, backgrounds, and ethnicities. This activity allowed employees and leaders to reflect on the information shared from Trish, Nellie, Stephen, and I and provide personal perspectives on past experiences, and ideas for the future.
I would like to thank Trish for leading an informative and incredibly interactive session around unconscious bias, diversity, equity, and inclusion. I would also like to thank Nellie Borrero and Stephen Denny for opening up and sharing their personal feedback and advice. We are on a large journey to diminish unconscious bias in the workplace, and we are on this journey together. It is important for us to take opportunities, such as attending online events and learning from one another to exercise what we learn, build each other up, and promote an inclusive workplace.