Seven Steps to Build a More Inclusive Work Culture

Video Meeting

When it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I), Angelina Howard, senior product manager at Amazon Web Services (AWS) and diversity leader, says inclusion comes first. Howard is also an advisor to the Inclusive Product Management (IPM) Accelerator at the University of Washington, Seattle, USA, where she works to empower members of historically marginalized communities to achieve positions in product management and develop successful innovations for diverse audiences.

“Companies have tended to set goals around diversity by hiring a certain number of women or Black employees, for example, but without building a culture that celebrates people’s differences, rather than saying we don’t see differences, they will not thrive,” Howard explains. “There is a need for product managers to be more intentional, collect feedback from a geographically wide customer pool and include people with differing capabilities to highlight gaps from the beginning,” Howard says.

Creating an inclusive culture takes on increased importance as the pandemic subsides and companies try to entice workers back to the office. Howard suggests steps organizations can take to create an inclusive culture where workers can be themselves in a setting that supports optimal performance.

  1. Set up affinity or employee resource groups (ERGs). “ERGs are your eyes and ears to what a community is looking for,” says Howard. “So listen to them and exploit them for their thoughts and ideas. But do not expect them to do all of the work.”
  2. Provide the support and resources needed to make change. ERGs can contribute the ideas and direction, but funding is necessary to implement change and make it part of the culture.
  3. Build equity by removing barriers. “It is not enough to provide a stepping-stone for people to look over the fence,” Howard says, “It is necessary to remove the fence altogether. It's not helping me get over the problem. Getting rid of the problem is how I think about equity.”
  4. Be transparent and supply context about wages. “Not everyone is going to be paid the same,” Howard explains. “If you have a product manager who is working on something that's not technical, they probably should not be paid as much as someone who's working on the technical product. Understanding the context will help equip workers to negotiate a raise in pay or change of position.”
  5. Set and enforce goals with key performance indicators (KPIs). Frequently, DE&I goals aren’t reviewed and enforced the same way as revenue and other business goals. “If people missed the goals, are you asking why with the same rigor that you would apply to other goals?” Howard asks.
  6. Have the difficult conversations. Whether it’s through training, eLearning, sponsoring guest speakers or holding conferences and special events, bring people together to have discussions about topics like gender, race and ethnicity.
  7. Celebrate our differences! Making sure everyone has a voice and an opportunity to succeed sparks creativity and supports positive outcomes.

Describing what a more digital, inclusive future looks like, Howard envisions more collaboration across borders, but also diverse voices able to determine what is best for their own communities. “The pandemic made me think about my products more inclusively and how do I build things for a global audience,” Howard says. “I think we really got pushed into a very digital age and I see that trend continuing. Product managers should not just assume that they are building inclusive products. We must make sure that we have the right tools to manage our projects and work with others in different cities and countries.”

For more on changes in the workplace and the impact of DE&I initiatives, read the 2022 “Global Megatrends” report.