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We chat with SAP's Chief Diversity Officer Judith Michelle Williams about what she's learned while building out Dropbox, Google, and SAP's diversity and inclusion programs and the role technology will play in building better products through more inclusive and diverse teams.

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Welcome to the second episode of missions matter by disco a show about building and scaling culture in the age of digital transformation I'm Jeremy VandeHei co-founder of disco disco is an app that helps companies celebrate reinforce and measure their values inside of tools employees use so things like slack Microsoft teams Google Hangouts and we help our customers create values driven org switch which lead to happier more productive people I'm excited to chat with Judith Michelle Williams and Judith's the head of people sustainability and the chief diversity and inclusion officer at sa P she's here to chat with us about the impact of diverse teams how the future of work will enable more inclusive teams which lead to better products and how you can start building a stronger team whether you're a young startup like disco or a public company like I say P great thank you for having me of course of course and I actually feel like I need to apologize is a kind of lured you here under false pretenses not with malicious intent but the original show is called culture karaoke we since changed that to machines man but I do feel a deep desire to still ask you karaoke questions because you actually talked about bringing your karaoke microphone here so I did let's can I just hear a little bit more about your passion what what is jus this a karaoke favorite song how did she get so into it one of my colleagues loved karaoke so we started going on Fridays at a place on called encore karaoke which is on Polk in California if anyone is interested in in San Francisco it's a fun karaoke bar and we just started going and so any opportunity now and I am NOT a great singer but I am an enthusiastic singer I think that's all it takes that in some alcohol and this is one with like a private room right yeah this is one where it's just all out for everybody to see another private room that's that's for cowards that's for beginners I mean it's karaoke yeah nobody's out there to be professional I mean some people are happy but most people are out there to have fun I am currently the chief diversity inclusion officer for sa P I actually started at sa P in timber so I'm not long enroll prior to that I was working as an independent consultant and one of the fun projects I was able to work on was the reframe project which is a collaboration with women and film and the Sundance Institute and the focus is on increased gender balance in film TV and digital media both from the sense of the production staff but also the stories that are told and so I helped them develop their culture change roadmap and also their curriculum for cultural change prior to that I led diversity and inclusion at Dropbox and prior to that I was a diversity program manager at Google where I led the unconscious bias program I'm curious how you approached your job in terms of building a more inclusive environment and inclusive workforce the needs or the stages of a company like Dropbox a company like Google and a company like ICP are different in some senses or if that wasn't even really a consideration well the the scope of the challenge changes and sometimes the problems that you have do you change depending on the size or the stage of the company but for me the process always begins with the data and so I like to understand well what's going on in terms of demographics in terms of the hiring process in terms of promotion rates or time to promotion time in role and once you look at that sort of data you can get a sense of well where are your gaps you certainly can see what's happening at each level in a smaller organization certainly you're going to have fewer levels but what you will have are key roles and so you can see if for example the most junior people tend to be one particular demographic compared to the most senior people you're beginning to have some differences in terms of your inclusion so I would say always start with the data and collect data early and sometimes we we also want data on our decisions a lot of times we think about all of our decisions as individual decisions but if you start tracking the decisions that you make you may find that each one of those individual decisions is actually leading up to a pattern and that pattern can be indicative of a certain type of bias so for example I may have a very strong preference for the people that I went to call I socialize with them I tell lots of stories about someone I meet who's gone to that college that might not be true but that's a like me bias and that's a preference and so I have to think about that if I'm hiring someone and I need someone who went to that college or if I'm using that as a key filter and so sometimes we naturally gravitate to things like that we can track our individual behavior well we can also track our organization's behavior regardless of the size you know it certainly you need a better tool to collect that data when you get to the size of a Dropbox or at Google but even small organizations can start looking at the patterns in their decision making yeah that makes a lot of sense and I was thinking about when I was preparing for this show is like disco is a tool that you know basically helps kind of shape these micro interactions through positive reinforcement essentially tying it to companies values and a lot of companies will have like an explicit value that says like we care about diversity and inclusion and one thing that I really like and I guess this is jumping forward to sa P is I think it was embrace differences is the value which to me is is actionable and approachable and that like I can actually I can actually see how that ties into decisions throughout my day versus like just a broader thing that's a little less action well so I think you all are already doing a good job with how you think about that well if we if we think about what makes a successful organization or a successful team it's not that you have one really smart person it's that you have groups of people that have different backgrounds experiences different skills and they're able to successfully collaborate and work together and so if you embrace difference you're actually embracing what you hired people for you're embracing what is possible and you have a spirit of openness and I believe that leads to greater innovation I think it is really important to acknowledge that we all have biases they're shortcuts in the way that we process information I was interviewing for sa P and my interview was over and so it had been a very intense couple days and I was waiting for my driver to take me from Heidelberg where I was staying to the Frankfurt Airport it's about 45 minutes away and I was incredibly concerned about missing my plane I'd had a really stressful day and I didn't see my driver and I was getting increasingly frustrated so I called the recruiter and I said hey the driver is not here and they're cruder called the dispatcher and the dispatcher said the driver is there and we went back and forth for a while and finally I was on the phone with the dispatcher and the dispatcher had me on one end and had the driver on the other end and I looked across and I saw a woman and I locked eyes with her and I realized that my unconscious bias was such that when I thought driver I thought man and so I couldn't see her and if you think about what triggers our unconscious biases it's when we're stressed it's when the stakes are really high it's when we don't have enough information we have limited information so we fill in the blanks which is a typical work environment exactly especially in a start-up right yeah so it's very easy and you would think with all of these organizations doing unconscious bias training that being aware would help you but I've trained thousands of people on unconscious bias and in that moment when I was completely stressed out and worried I still fell into a very typical bias and she fell into a bias as well because she wasn't expecting to see someone who looked like me I find that when you're talking about especially as somebody who looks like me is like you know a Caucasian male who's you know in his early 30s it can be uncomfortable nobody wants to say I'm biased or I'm making decisions that are like harmful to not just our organization but people who want to join or like want to use the product or things like that it's such a humanizing experience to understand that like everybody has these things I think the first step is just acknowledging that I tend to assume like everybody has a very good intent but like let's just acknowledge that and then we can actually move past it to the next step to driving actual change in terms of building a team that is very inclusive as human beings we have a lot of information that comes to us at every moment and if we had to process it consciously we wouldn't be a the function we wouldn't be able to make our day-to-day decisions the challenge is that sometimes those biases affect our decisions about people I mean they can actually expect affect our decisions about all sorts of things but we do want to be sensitive to the fact that we have them awareness is the first step but even awareness isn't enough to counteract them we need to be looking at our own behavior we need to give ourselves more time a lot of times people say well I'm really rushed it's like we always have 30 more seconds to take a step and say wait a minute might this be one of my biases firing you know can you think about it another way is to ask someone about it because oftentimes people have different sets of blind spots so getting more inputs that can help and it's it's a parallel processing error for us while our biases are firing we are unable to correct for them because we as human beings can't parallel process but if you have another person that helps you and I think it's important that we think about the shared accountability and if you're building a culture you want a feedback culture where people feel really comfortable saying hey Jeremy I noticed this and I just want to give you the opportunity to correct it right and it's what you say assume good intent and we assume good intent until proven otherwise when these unconscious biases come out or in these you know stressful intense situations which for any of our listeners who have we're all you know probably working at a company that has been in a stressful situation but starting one for me it personally has been like the most fulfilling but also the most insanely stressful experience of my life so far I don't have any kids yet so how do you typically like coach or work with people who are on the earlier side and need to think about this stuff from day one because something I I find is is like my brother is my co-founder and like genetically speaking he's the least the first person for me that I could possibly work with but I think it speaks to a broader theme of like we we kind of manifest our own network and you know pushing against that from from the get-go and there's there's pressures pushing into it as well it was like you want to grow quickly you want to like fill roles and there's all of the reasons to just kind of kick Kansas down the road you know so just be curious how you think about that how you work with smaller teams well I always coach folks to say when you're smaller it's easier so if you think about s AP we have about 95 thousand employees currently and it's crazy changing a ship like that is really challenging if you think about just from the numbers that you need to hire to really make a difference in terms of our percentages for demographics is there a newer better metaphor for a company that's ninety five thousand people instead of like the Titanic that's not a good eye that's a good question not the Titanic or something not the lesser taenia and the problem with the Caribbean cruise boats you know sometimes they get norovirus so I'm not really comfortable with that one either okay let's put think about that throughout the course of the show yeah I joined find one well think about that yeah it's it's it's a smaller number that you need to and what happens is that there's a network effect and so if you can build diversity in early when you have let's say a handful of people or ten people then you hire one or two people who will have very different networks you tap into their networks and it becomes a virtuous circle to always be aware of it and it also changes your culture because you're thinking about inclusion you're bringing in people with different backgrounds from the beginning and they'll get that input they'll have that voice and when I when I talk to startup founders I say look you're small now but you're not going into this because you want to stay small so you want to think about what's the culture that you want to build what are the values that you have and how can you make sure that your early decisions reflect that culture and those values and if you do that then then you it's a lot easier to grow on top of those values it changes I think also what your opportunities are because you may not see things that someone with a very different background can see and so you may find new opportunities most startups have to pivot at some point and so having different people in the room I think helps you think through that pivot in a different way yeah and it just from our own personal experience like we've we've been thoughtful about finding people who you know didn't also share a mother and a father and probably a limited number yeah yeah it's a fixed it's a set of four and our two other siblings would never want to work with us anyways they know better but some of our our biggest insights came from you know people who don't look like me so I think even in a sample size of six we're already seeing just the crazy high business returns let alone just the satisfaction of not having the same conversations day in and day out because regardless of size it's like that next idea could be the thing that propels you forward and that can really come from anywhere and it's something we think a lot about is like the world's only getting more connected so your products need to be able to scale especially at a company like ASAP to people who you know come from different places who live in different cultures who speak different languages so it's yeah it's it's really easy for me now to see how all of this is just laying a foundation for a more successful future related to like the different phases of a company how do you think about like measuring the results of of your work because you talked a little bit about going back to the data are there goals or benchmarks that you look towards that big companies can also start to kind of align themselves again small companies can kind of shoot for like how do you think about that I like to think about what are the outcomes that we're trying to drive and so if we are thinking about increasing the number of women in leadership we need to have a target so at SA P we have a goal to have 30 percent women in leadership by 2020 we've been really public about that goal we've been really vocal about it internally that allows us to mobilize all of our activity toward changing that demographic changing that number and so we're able to then say well what are the interventions that we're using what is the impact that they have I'm also a big fan of piloting and validating so if we have an idea for a program let's start small let's work out the kinks let's get some data let's make sure that we I come out of an academic background so I like to think about well what's the experimental condition and how do we make sure that we can control for as many variables as possible so that we really do know that the intervention that we are has the impact that we think and so I think that the start small and scale it's actually a really good model for a big company like sa P because if you start really big and it's an intervention that's not valid and it's not successful their resources that it takes to do that are really large so if you start small and you say ok let's let's validate then you can scale up and you know before you invest the resources and I think that's probably a great model for smaller companies as well yeah I love the the data-driven approach I think there's there's so much data out there if you're just really clear on what you're driving towards and putting the tools in place to be able to measure that it's just so much easier to kind of build momentum I would imagine if you're starting small you knock a goal out of the park and then you can just keep elevating that one thing I'm curious about is a lot of times or when I when I initially thought about like diversity and inclusion I go right to like hiring and just making sure the team is is diverse and you're bringing the right people in I'm curious how you think about like the rest of the employee lifecycle and are there processes kind of built into fostering more inclusiveness not just on you know gender race but like thought diversity or any of those other attributes well when I think about diversity I think that they're basically two big buckets of diversity one is our inherent diversity so those are the things that were born with things like geographic origin our gender identity our ethnicity or race those are things that we are born with really really hard to change if not impossible and then there are the things that we acquire are acquired diversity and that's what makes us different it makes you different from your brother right because even though you've had the same parents and the same really experiences you probably had different experience outside of the home probably your birth order changes that so it's important that we create an environment where people feel psychologically safe to express their difference so when we think about inclusion catalysts as an organization there's a lot of research on diversity inclusion one things that their model says that inclusion is about uniquely uniqueness and belonging so you want to feel that you are valued for your uniqueness but you also want to feel a sense of belonging so there are things you can do to communicate that there's a sense of belonging things like parental leave so that both men and women are expected to take leave to care for their children and that seems like a really basic thing but for so long we've enshrined maternity leave this idea that women leave and men stay and that creates a certain career path so we're not thinking about the fact that in our current situation both parents may want to be part of a child's early life so and then thinking about again how do we make sure that parents have the support that they need how do we think about people who may come back to the workforce after an absence because perhaps they've been caring for a child perhaps they've had a long illness how do we think about making sure we support that type of difference as well at sa P we have a program called autism at work where we have actively tried to create a process that makes it possible for individuals on the spectrum to actually showcase their skills rather than their difference right to show what they can contribute we've had a lot of success and we've had to think about what's the process what's the preparation what's the manager support what's the development lifecycle one thing we we found at disco is just being able to build a fundamental basis of trust is like the most important thing that's when you can start putting yourself out there and like really actually showing up at work is like how you want to portray yourself and then this sense of belonging is incredibly important as well and we think a lot about what do they share in common and you know it's their connectedness to the culture and that they're buying into these values as like these are the these are the operating mechanism this is how we behave this is how we make decisions these are all things that we share has an incredible impact I'm curious how technology and like the future of work kind of will impact that you know because we see more and more teams who are communicating our collaborating and they're not face-to-face so what does you know building because it opens up doors in terms of like you can hire all over the world it's easier to connect it's easier to to you know collaborate but it could also be more difficult to kind of manifest that level of trust that level of belonging how do you think about the role technology will play in terms of where this with this space and our industry is headed technology has a lot of potential and and it can link us together and we we see that in some of our personal lives but also at work in terms of I have a team that is completely disparate so I have a number of folks in Europe I have folks in Canada I have folks on the East Coast I have a team member in Bangalore so we seldom are in the same room and in fact most of the time we're all virtual al my one-on-ones are virtual our team meetings are virtual we have a yearly summit where we actually get together and then there are other occasions when I might go work with some folks and not others so we really have to think about how do you build connection and one one technology that I've used it's it's it's called Dabra and it's a really interesting AI you answer a few questions and it actually is able to give you insight on how people like to communicate how people like to work and it reminds you before our one-on-one certain things about the individual so it's reminding you of not just the transactional nature of the relationship hey we've got work that has to get done but how people like to communicate how people like to relate and so the technology can help enable that it can nudge that it can also you know reward certain behaviors over others I know that disco does that it's encouraging certain types of positive pro-social behaviors and I think the more that we think about technology is nudging us toward good the more potential it has for inclusion there's a lot of opportunity to think about the way that technology can not just away from our biases as well if in the moment of decision the technology can practice to say hey do you know that this is where bias plays out and you might be playing into a bias or giving you that data as you need it to change some of your behaviors I think there's a lot of exciting stuff coming even in the micro interaction so if like I'm about to send a message that says hey guys and like not everybody as a man so like could it nudge me to say folks you know things that might make somebody feel uncomfortable and they're 3,000 miles away so I'm not really putting myself in their shoes the use case you just mentioned around like how people prefer to be represented how they prefer to communicate are all things that we want to think more about too because in platforms like collaboration platforms like slack like Microsoft teams you mentioned discos it's a lot of like public recognition but maybe people don't like being publicly recognized like maybe they prefer to do that in a one-on-one environment a lot of exciting tech in the day to day some interesting stuff on like the hiring side the recruiting side one of our customers Becky Chung had a question around how is technology helping you know remove some of that bias on the like when you're looking for a candidate yeah I mean they're there number of technologies that are focused on removing bias so there's text EO which it changes the language so it goes through and it looks at your job announcements and it lets you know whether or not you have gendered language which is more likely if your job announcement has a lot of male words that are thought of as male words women are less likely to apply and so text EO will go through the job announcements and change that and it'll allow you to see the the effectiveness of job announcements there is software there's blend or brilliant hire both of which anonymize the selection or the early part of the selection so that instead of a resume review you actually are able to have tasks performed right that are like the job or they're evaluated on answers to questions but you don't know who it is you haven't seen the resumes you don't have school bias you don't have gender bias you don't have Geographic bias so certainly at those early stages there is so a software called typica and in típica is able to one is able to resurface candidates in your own ATS who you might have passed over or who might have applied for one role and are a better fit for other roles so helping you find more diversity in your own candidate pool so there are lots of different types of technology that are thinking about the higher end piece that are thinking about how do we drive for more fairness and more inclusion in the hiring blind resume reviews one stage I'm really hopeful for VR that I think it would be really cool if one day someone had a VR interviewing platform so you didn't know anything about the gender race/ethnicity of either the interview or the person interviewed you could pick your avatar and it would be something that was totally different so you were really had to focus on what the person said and what their qualities were or what their capabilities were rather than certain you know demographic qualities or assumptions I don't know if my head kind of went to have you read ready player one or seen that movie I read the book yeah yeah everybody lives in the Oasis and like you just kind of choose your avatar yeah I'm imagining some future state where we're all just wearing VR headsets and like working from home and people know me as a fox or like a koala bear or whoever I you know want to choose as this kind of skin I don't know if that's a good thing or we would ever get there but it's kind of a weird sci-fi future to think about I like that sci-fi version of work I think it'd be a lot of fun as long and if you think about a lot of the work that we do it's where knowledge workers so we could have a virtual Fox doing the work yeah what would your avatar be feel oh it elephant definitely an elephant oh yeah one question on like I guess the industry and where we're headed does it feel like we're hitting a turning point from your perspective in terms of executives are like they understand it they don't need to see like the ROI or is it still kind of not even at sa PE but just more broadly speaking like where do you feel like we're at in this in kind of the the journey of I'm assuming the goal being a 100% inclusive and diverse workforce I I think we've made progress a conversation I think we've made progress in making it a priority and people talking about it and executives being bought on and but in terms of the outcomes we haven't made as much of a difference as we would like and sometimes we look at things like the pipeline and we say okay the pipeline is is creating the challenges but oftentimes we are not getting the diversity out of the pipeline that already exists and so it's a culture issue that we really have to think about and you have organizations that really weren't diverse at the beginning and so some of the cultural practices didn't grow up around inclusion and I do think that now startup founders are thinking about inclusion early so I have a lot of optimism that the cultures that are being built now from the bottom up are going to be more inclusive than the ones that that that we've seen and it's not I think a lack of will it's it's it's a you mentioned that sometimes you're trying to move fast and get things done and in the past when there was no conversation about inclusion moving fast and getting things done and hiring quickly was just hiring people who are like them and building cultures that really worked for the people that were present in those organizations can you talk about some of the work that you do I would imagine like earlier in the pipeline like a big push that like we want at disco is like we want to find more female engineers and if you just build extrapolate that out like how many people of any you know race or gender are going into stem research or computer science do you all have a presence in like earlier in the pipeline and are there initiatives that you're you're doing to kind of fill that out we have a program called learning for life which is for anyone right so it's about expanding the pipeline in a lot of different ways and so that's open to growth earlier in the pipeline but also people who want to retrain because I think that that's an opportunity as well we have a university program that we do outreach we also have a lot of our CSR strategy is focused on some of that early pipeline development and identifying you know girls or other groups getting them excited about stem and understanding that some of those folks may never work at sa P but it's better for all of us if we have more diversity in stem make sense how do you think about the you hear a lot about culture fit right but really what that's doing is what's the word perpetuating is that word the lot of the same right so how do you think about that at at si P so I try to get away from the idea of culture fit and in instead I say look we want values fit but we want culture contribution because if everyone is the same then I'm not getting that value of difference so I need to think about how do I look for people who I might not feel like hey I want to socialize with but I really think that we could do good work together and sometimes when you have a group of people with different backgrounds and experiences the feeling of it is can be uncomfortable can be struggle full that word can be full of struggle can and and we need to learn to lean into that and embrace that because the product is usually better and if you think about if you have your wonderful idea and everybody is like Jeremy you're so smart that's so great that's so great then the idea doesn't ever get any better it just stays there but if you have that same idea and someone's like well what about that what about that just think about that can you try that the idea that you have on the other side it's a stronger it's a better idea and so we want that contribution from people we want people that are gonna push us to have better ideas and so I think it's really important for us to get away from culture fit and start thinking about values fit and culture contribution is there a way you've all found it at si p2 of flesh out whether it's their background or how they interview how they would match up against the values or or contribute to the culture in a meaningful way so we are looking at different technologies to say how do we how do we know what's the profile and how do we find that profile in our candidate population so that's something that we're still looking into you there's a software called plum which allows us to create profiles and in calibrate both candidates and current employees on those profiles and that can help with development but we're not sure what the solution is I think a lot of it is changing the conversation first but then again technology can really help us this brings up another dynamic especially at a company of s ap size of 95,000 employees is like you can I would imagine get a get really good at getting a small team on the same page of like this is how we hire for values and for culture contribution but finding a way to scale that to all of the hiring managers or all of the managers to kind of think that same way sounds incredibly difficult possible with technology and like the right education but but difficult all the same well it's it's a challenge but we are going to have to have an interview training for our managers and so if we make sure that those values are enshrined in our interview training it might start slow but it can it can change you have to think about what are the channels for information that you use in your organization and hiding leverage existing channels make sense this comes from Becky as well one of our customers she was interested in kind of how you talk about diversity to the talent community and just how you think about broadcasting the good work that you're doing to the candidate pool well first you have to identify the candidate pool that you want to address you have to know where they are you have to know what motivates them we have a program called our talent wins program and we actually do these large-scale events where we have targeted invitations so for example there was an event recently at Paisley Park and the goal was getting more women who might be interested in stem working for sa P so we had lots of women that we invited and then we had amazing female singers and at Paisley Park to get them excited about sa P and so did you do karaoke there I wasn't there so I I was not able to go because you know other responsibilities but we you know we what we're trying to do is just really show that sa V is innovative that sa P is a you know a company that is thinking about the future that you know we are a purpose-driven company that we are you know definitely making that outreach and it's very direct I think that's one of our most exciting channels to think about how we are getting our name out to the marketplace to the talent marketplace yeah you know just from my own personal perspective so we work with sa P through the SA Pio foundry program and we have exposure to you know how they work with other startups and through like the the fund and all of these things and it's very clear that this is not just a lip service thing like they're looking at you know how diverse the founding teams are and like who they want to work with and it's it's a serious it's a serious topic that people aren't aren't just paying lip service to so I think that speaks a lot to the work that you're doing and just the culture as a whole do you have any closing thoughts or things you want to impart um I really think that so when I think about diversity it's everyone all of us contribute to the diversity and inclusion is what powers it and so I think it's really important to think about for startups how everybody you know has that space that's that's the spirit that I want to convey is that Bill who is our you know our CEO he says diversity is a reality inclusion as a choice and I love that quote because we get to make the choices about the culture that we have about the teams that we have about the way that we interact and that's really more important than anything else I think that's an incredible drop the mic these mics are mounted but we would and the people here would not be happy but cool this podcast is a production of disco we recorded this episode in the world-class Donatello studios in San Francisco California I want to send a huge thank you to Judith this has been an absolute pleasure to talk with you today about diversity inclusion your role at si P your background I learned a lot and I think our listener as well as well so thank you so much you're welcome thank you if you have any questions comments or suggestions for future episodes just send me an email to Jeremy at just disco comm on behalf of Justin Joseph myself and the entire disco team thank you so much for this.