Does your company cultivate inclusion?

Each company’s culture is defined by a variety of factors.

One major factor is its leadership, and the type of workplace environment they choose to create. For example, are they approachable and encourage collaboration from all levels of the organization? Or do they prefer to maintain a tightly knit power structure, working only within the C-suite, from a rigid, top-down structure?

I’m quite fortunate to work for an employer with a culture that focuses on empowering and valuing the contributions of women equally to men at all levels of the organization. I recognize the gift that this culture is because sadly, not every company is like this. Tech companies especially must increase efforts to enable and encourage women with inspiration and opportunities that drive success. In fact, research has shown that companies with gender diversity in leadership experience greater financial returns.

So, how can other companies become more inclusive? The goal is identifying the right mix of ideas to create or institute programs that are unique but fit within the company’s mission and workplace culture. While the program at my employer is still being defined and developed, we have some great ideas for kickstarting an inclusive program that can be successful for your team, such as:

Create a community and attend events that expand your network

Getting involved in community events that are focused on women, like Women of Silicon Valley, is one way my team has made critical connections with the local talent pool and other female leaders in the Bay area. This creates significant value for our organization over time, and the investment in participation cannot be overstated. Partnering with those outside your company can also foster inclusive workforces, and that is a win-win.

Taking this a step further, we’ve also invited speakers to speak to our female employees on topics ranging from career development or tips and tools for avoiding imposter syndrome, to strategies for engaging with peers in the workplace and fostering more productivity.

As a developing program, I believe the inclusive initiatives at my company put them ahead of many others in Silicon Valley. The organization partners with our PR firm to identify and take advantage of industry speaking engagements, such as DefendCon and the Women in Tech Summits, to highlight female thought leaders, as well as industry award programs like Women in IT, that recognize significant achievements of female engineers in our market.

We are also currently pursuing a workshop for women to help them maximize their professional LinkedIn profiles. Here, our female employees will examine their own profiles to determine if their value is clearly articulated. They will be given suggestions on strengthening their profiles and representing their experience, and also have professional photos taken.

Finally, our company looks for ways to lift up women employees and celebrate their presence. As an example, we recently acknowledged International Women’s Day with a luncheon hosted by executive leadership for women in all departments, praising their contributions and the vital role they have in our company’s continued success.

Keep interoffice communication productive and professional, but also social

Having a dedicated interoffice communication channel where women engineers can go to ask questions or offer support to other women is very beneficial.

At my company, female employees at every level of the organization utilize a Slack group to collaborate and share information. Here, inclusion is immediate as you’re welcomed on your first day of employment and invited to contribute to the group.

The general vibe of our Slack channel is about ‘women empowering women.’ We encourage and lift each other up. Our team vice president also keeps us informed about special events and opportunities that might be of interest.

We also use the channel as a professional resource, whether it’s to brainstorm ideas, to share industry articles featuring other powerful women killing it in tech, or to communicate opportunities for professional development and upskilling that might benefit us all.

This exclusively women’s outlet has grown quite important to us, especially as our company was acquired earlier this year. As roles have evolved, women are finding support from one another and receiving encouragement as they adjust to new tasks and responsibilities.

This cultural empowerment is a movement for our company, and you can see it in how women will flock toward each other. For example, it’s noticeable in meetings how colleagues celebrate the successful completion of a project or amplify a great idea by eagerly offering support and congratulations.

These obvious benefits have spawned the idea to create group ‘empowerment chapters’ in each of our global offices in Houston, Belfast, and San Jose, where women will take turns acting as a chairperson and coordinator for that particular location. Since a company’s culture is also impacted by its physical geography within the world, or whether it is located in an urban or rural area, these chapters can enhance our understanding of colleagues in different parts of the world.

Use same-gender mentorship to build a more diverse workforce

Executive leaders are recognizing that in order to promote continued learning, stronger job performance, and swift career advancement that results in employees remaining with their organization longer, they must provide inclusive and effective mentors and sponsors. For men or women, the emphasis can be less on hierarchy and more on reciprocity, so companies can develop and provide mutual mentoring pairs.

The mentoring program for my team focuses women employees on increasing the inclusivity of women in the workspace; sharing motivational messages on being a woman in tech and recognizing and celebrating the successes of individuals within a group. These relationships help women to overcome individual challenges with the existing organizational hierarchy and quickly address progress-killing power dynamics that might be in play.

As an expansion of our mentorship program, we have also made a point to impress upon the recruiters and hiring consultants that we work with, to help with our efforts by identifying and delivering a more diverse pool of job candidates to apply for open positions within the organization. Being upfront and transparent about this requirement means that we’re actively fostering greater inclusion and diversity from the very beginning of a woman’s career with us – and it is supported from the top-down in the org chart. We even target colleges and universities with a favorable diversity profile to recruit interns and entry-level employees.

The U.S. recently celebrated Women’s Equality Day, commemorating the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, granting the right for women to vote. This amendment was hard-earned by 19th century women, who previously had little opportunity to assert their opinions or individuality.

Generations of women since then have had a vastly different life experience. Our aim as women is to keep pushing this effort forward. One way to do that is recognizing how much women contribute to the workplace and impact our corporate culture.

I heard a quote once that really resonates with me: “Diversity is being invited to the party, but inclusion is being asked to dance.” Explicitly defining and sharing criteria for advancement, offering exciting assignments to all employees, and most importantly, expecting, reinforcing and rewarding intentional inclusion can go a long way toward strengthening a positive corporate culture.

It’s expected that corporate culture may change over time, being re-shaped or molded by the influx of new people, new places and new ideas. Therefore, it takes some effort to develop a strong culture that continues to reflect the company’s values and ensures that any changes are still appropriately meeting the needs of every employee, while delivering on the company’s core mission.

We must address the workplace status quo and force organizations to address biases and stereotypes, or risk reinforcing gender inequalities. Promoting a corporate culture where talented professional women associate and engage with other professional women or advocates of women at varied career levels may be the revolution needed to truly transform workplace gender inclusion.