Here’s a diversity programme that actually works
Bie Aweh is unique – not just because she’s a Black woman at a tech startup who has the ear of executives, but because she’s made a diversity and inclusion programme that actually works. Two and a half years ago, while working on learning and development at DoorDash, she helped develop the company’s Elevate programme, an internal sponsorship project designed to help advance the careers of women of colour at the food-delivery startup.
“When I first came in, the state of affairs in terms of representation of women of colour in leadership wasn’t where we wanted to be,” says Aweh, who co-founded Elevate while bearing the unwieldy title of senior learning and development manager for women, non binary and underrepresented talent development. “Rather than just focus on recruiting, getting more senior women of colour externally, we wanted to focus on investing in talent internally.” So far, Aweh has run three cohorts of Elevate, and the numbers bear out her success, with more than a third of alumni subsequently being promoted.
Such success stories are few and far between, though improving diversity at work isn’t a new concept: HR departments have been considering it since the Civil Rights movements of the 1960s. The idea of “diversity and inclusion” has taken off in the last few years, but we still lack real diversity in professional roles, in particular at tech companies.
Ideas such as critical diversity management are still young in terms of management theories, says Anthony Thomas, a lecturer at the University of South Wales who is studying critical diversity management. “If you read any research papers, there’s always a long list at the bottom calling for more research, because this is an area in its infancy,” he explains.
More research about what works and doesn’t is desperately needed, but because of the sensitive nature of such programmes, companies often aren’t willing to share their successes — let alone their failures. “Organisations invest a lot of money in diversity inclusion,” says Thomas. “And if it goes wrong, you’re not going to highlight and publicise it — you will try and find the small positives and highlight those.”
That’s why projects like DoorDash’s Elevate are so intriguing. Here’s what the American food-delivery startup did, how success was tracked, what your own company can learn – and, perhaps most importantly, what worked and what didn’t.
Start at the top. Aweh says the work to build Elevate had a jump start because she didn’t need to convince the executive team that such a programme was necessary, as they already understood the business case for diversity and had embedded the idea of empowerment into corporate strategy. “Our mission as a company is to empower local economies, and we can’t do that unless we’re empowering everyone in those local economies,” she says. “We need the perspective of women of colour, of non-binary people, of people of all backgrounds.”
Instead, most of her initial time was spent enlightening management about the differences between mentorship and sponsorship. With the former, managers may offer support, training, advice and coaching, but Aweh says a sponsor should also be an active advocate. “A sponsor is someone who is willing to use their power and influence to help folks to accelerate or elevate – hence the name of the programme,” she explains, “A sponsor is going to pound the table and say, ‘I have a person with these strong skill sets, let’s put them on this project’.”
Published at Mon, 25 Oct 2021 14:00:00 +0000