Creating an inclusive engineering culture | Yenny Cheung | #LeadDevBerlin


Great, so I really agree with what Scott mentioned
that two years ago it was the first time I gave a public speaking talk. I wouldn’t have imagined
I would have accepted something like that. I’m not in the moon yet, but, this is a major
milestone getting to there! So, today, I will be talking about creating an inclusive engineering
culture. Before we get into that, why do I care? Why are you presenting? So, allow me
to introduce myself briefly. Back in the days, I went to an all-women’s school growing up,
so I was less aware of these gender stereotypes. That changed as I studied computer science
and I entered the industry. I came to realise that not being the majority sometimes means
that there are more barriers to break through. I have a small case of what it is liked to
be marginalised. As an engineering manager, I meet the Women in Tech group at Yelp in
Hamburg, I have more power and privilege, and I hope to change that. That’s what got
me into inclusive environments and helping teams create that environment. I really like
seeing the positive impact that that can bring. Previously, I’ve organised summits with my
colleagues for this cause. I’ve also experienced giving out ally skill trainings, talks on
unconscious bias, and the importance of ally skills. That’s why I’m here today. So what
will be going through your head, there are a lot of these talks going around already,
so maybe you think isn’t that just about being decent people? Or maybe other people are already
trying to solve this problem? Don’t we have bigger fish to fry? If you look at the schedule,
there are a already a lot of problems that engineering leads need to take care of. Is
that one more thing that I need to think about. Also, some people might think that I have
questions, but how do I approach that? Is that okay for me to ask these questions? Hopefully
in this talk, I can address most of these concerns. To set the tone, this talk is about
the approaches for us to create a more inclusive environment, and it is by no means to shame
our behaviours. We all make mistakes, we are human and we can learn together. Another thing
is I will cite some research or studies, quotes, so that you can find the sources at the end.
I will share the slides after this. Given my experience, we will use women in tech as
a case study and it will be the main focus for the talk, but that’s not to say that other
under-represented groups aren’t more important, I’m just more familiar with this area. Here
is your menu for today. Why do we want diversity? If you want to amplify that effect of a diverse
workforce, how can we make use of inclusion and make use of belonging? Of course, we will
talk about how we can create this inclusive engineering culture that we want. Great. So
why do we want diversity? Personally, I think diversity is a little bit of an abstract concept,
and so I would rephrase it into something like this. Essentially, it’s a question of
why do we want team from different cultures, different backgrounds, genders, to come together
to work in a team? Two things I think first of all is that it is the right thing to do,
and, second of all, it’s good for business. As we saw from the previous talk, we’re in
tech and we face problems that are unprecedented. There are a lot of difficult problems for
us to solve, and we want people from a diverse background, diverse perspective to come together
to solve these diverse business needs. We don’t just want one way of solving problems,
we want the best way. It’s not a surprise that gender diversity can improve team decision-making.
It can help teams become more creative. To make the best use of this, what we need is
a supportive infrastructure. That makes sense because if we get these people into the door,
we have to make sure that they have an equal chance to succeed, that their voices will
be heard, and to create such supportive infrastructure, we will talk about two things – about inclusion,
and about belonging. So let’s dive deeper into these two concepts and what we can do
about that. So, to quote one of my favourites quotes: diversity is being invited to the
party, and inclusion is being asked to dance. When it comes to a workplace environment,
I would imagine something like this. For diversity, it’s like recruiting people from a different
background, helping them get together to solve a diverse set of business problems. Once these
folks get into the door, let’s think about how to ensure that everybody has the same
chance to succeed. And when we move on to belonging, it’s a little bit more than just
good vibes and friendships in the company. It is more about helping people bring their
best self and most authentic self to work without having to we’re that they will be
treated differently. That’s crucial to performance and also retention which I think a lot of
engineering leads care a lot about – including me. So now the question becomes how can we
create this culture where people from all backgrounds can belong and succeed in our
teams? As technical leads, I think it’s crucial for us to think about this problem. Before
I became an engineering manager, I got a sneak peek from one of the more senior managers
that I work with. What he is saying is, when you’re a manager, it’s like you’re forever
on the stage. People will be watching all your words, how you say things, what kind
of actions do you reward? What kind of actions do you penalise? And this is exactly how we
create team culture. How we create company culture. So, if we are in a leadership position,
we need to be aware of influence we have and do something about that. Being inclusive means
that it will harm our people and harm our business, and, as technical leads, we can
do better than that. We have a lot of things that we can do to address. For example, being
advocates for our people, acknowledging their contributions, and also advocate for their
recognition. So after we talk about that, with let’s go into the more strategic side
of things. How can we create this inclusive engineering culture? A few things that I want
to mention. One is to make inclusion a company-wide call, so, if you’re in the position that you
can decide that, there are some methods that we can try to use out. As for bottom-up, you
don’t have to have a title to start an em employee resource group with you we can go
through if we’re not in the group of unrepresented people, how can we try to facilitate from
from happening? At the same time, as part of our job, we have different responsibilities,
so what kind of things we can slip in here and there to make sure that we are putting
some inclusive elements in our day-to-day work? Great, so, if we want our employees
to care about this topic, we need to show that the company cares as well. One of my
favourite values at Yelp is Play Well With Others. What it means is that we value employees
that can bring others up. Even if we have people and individual contributors who are
very bright but if they can’t make people feel welcome to their job and making sure
that people are bringing their authentic self, they’re probably not going to have a successful
career at Yelp. This is an aspect of how we evaluate our employees. And there is one thing
that we use to map it with our employees’ career, and that is the engineering career
levels. So we have several aspects that we can map the employees’ performance to, and
here are some of the examples of categories that we look at. For example, well being,
community and championing, that is more relevant to today’s discussion. So we talk about helping
creating an engaging and supportive environment for the team. We talk about creating communities
that can facilitate that, and also building a diverse pipeline so that we can ensure that
Yelp will have a diverse workforce. This is something we pay attention to. This framework
that we have is directly tied to promotion, and also to compensation, and the reason we
care so much about this is because promoting people who don’t have the skills to make employees
feel welcome, actually prevents the company from having a culture that is inclusive. So,
as of all the projects we want to know how effective it is, what kind of things we want
to measure, and diversity, and inclusion programmes shouldn’t be an exception. So Scott already
mentioned the Lean Start-up book, like build, measure, complete. We’ve been measuring
our inclusion programming the last few years through this survey called Annual Employee
Engagement Survey, and also Management Feedback Survey. I got my management feedback survey
a few weeks ago. It’s a nerve-racking experience. Now you get a report card because you don’t
normally get too much feedback. This is one of the questions that is inside the form.
“My manager makes it easy for people from diverse backgrounds to fit in and succeed.”
Looking at the result, we have room for improvement but I think this is the right direction we
want to go. Great. Now let’s talk about a bottom approach, start an employee-resource
group. Since I lead the Women in Tech group at Yelp in Hamburg, I will give examples from
that that I’m more familiar with. So, there are disadvantages being a woman in tech, and
by creating these women in tech spaces, we are working towards levelling the playing
field, and also sharing a space where women feel like they belong. And I will talk about
how this space can create a safe space for women and how to offer the necessary networking
and professional opportunities. Providing women in tech a safe space: because it’s difficult
to fight against the system when you’re only one person. Especially when it comes to handling
difficult situations at work. It can serve us in the form of, say, micro aggressions,
stereotypes, biases, or in the worst-case scenario, sexual assaults. This can serve
as a front line. Even in recent media spotlight, we understand that not all the human resources
departments are doing a good job in areas like that. Hopefully having a group like this,
we can turn to each other for the next steps. We don’t have to wait until the MeToo hashtag
comes up to see that the culture of the company has a problem. Another thing that is interesting
is to create networking and professional opportunities. So, sometimes, being under represented in
tech feels like you’re going to a dinner, you’re at a dinner table where people are
excitedly talking about things that they are interested in, and sometimes you just don’t
have anything you want to talk about, and it’s very difficult to join in. So sometimes
it feels like there’s – it makes sense, because people who are more similar at the end to
get along better, but then these kinds of informal conversations are very important,
because people talk about company dynamics, they talk about future directions, and it
has a positive impact on people’s jobs if they know information, right? And so, like,
this is crucial for us to create an environment where women can also share these kinds of
informations. One of the more important ones is salary ranges. So we know that there is
a pay gap for women, not just in tech but across different industries. And oftentimes,
they found out that they’re being underpaid when the male colleague was doing the exact
same work at the same position, shared how much they earned. This is something that is
crucial for someone’s career to move forward. So, women in tech can provide these opportunities,
but it’s not limited to the members in the group, right? Because they all have their
network, and then coming to this group, like this, they can bring in their external network
as well and hence increasing the visibility of the members in this group. But you might
be asking, so, if I’m not inside this group, and I probably cannot start it, and what kind
of things can we do to help with this situation? So I will share with you one story. It’s one
of the senior managers that I’ve worked with before, so he’s not in the Women in Tech group
but he saw that in the Hamburg chapter. We didn’t have a women in tech group but then
we have one in the San Francisco office in the headquarters. He went to the lead from
the San Francisco office and he got all the information of how often they meet, what kind
of activities they do, and they set up a Google group for us and called a meeting of the women
in our office, and he told us these are some of the things that they do. Here are some
ideas, feel free to take it on. It all started where we were casually talking but now we’ve
expanded to have 13 members. Apart from these social lunches that we have, we also organise
an annual summit across Yelp to talk about diversity and inclusion, and to showcase the
work that women in tech have. Now the interesting part is, as a technical lead, day to day,
what else can we do to help with creating such a culture? So I will talk about some
of our routine work. For example, mentorship, sponsorship, and fair recognition. Mentorship
basically means that we are sharing our own experience to help other people to take take
a better decision. And providing members of under represented groups with role models,
and we can help them with their career with our own experiences, helping them grow, getting
promoted, or become better engineers helps balance out any inequality. I want to share
my experiences with you. Virginia here, she is one of my mentors I have at Yelp. I remember
when I first joined Yelp, I was a fresh grad. I haven’t done interviewing, project-leading,
or giving talks. I remember the first time I do these things, I go to Virginia, and I
tell her, I don’t think I’m ready for this. I really doubt if I’m good enough to do any
of these things. She will tell me that, she feels like that sometimes too, but then the
more she does that, the better she feels about it. It’s important for me to feel like at
that moment I wasn’t alone, and somebody else has actually gone through that path before.
So it means a lot to me whenever I encounter some tricky situations at work, sometimes,
I ask myself, “What would Virginia do in this situation?” It gives me a lot of confidence
and makes me feel I’m more confident to make the right decision going forward. So I also
have a mentee. Back then, she wanted to explore software engineering as a career path. She
faced a lot of opposition for her decision to have a career in tech. I’m happy after
the mentorship experience, after she joined our team, she came back to Yelp Hamburg as
a full-time employee. I’m glad this experience made her realise how good of an engineer she
is. Fast-forward a year now, she already passed her one-year Yelpiversary. This is how I see
mentorship, having advice from people who have been there before, and reassuring they’re
not the first to do anything. Talking about mentorship, I want to bring about sponsorship.
Oftentimes, people from under represented groups in tech get a lot of advice – you should
do this, do that – but they don’t get enough opportunities to showcase their work, or to
learn from the experience, right? And so that is why I want to bring up how we can, as technical
leaders, we have to power to give people the opportunities. So here’s a comic that I think
sums up mentorship and sponsorship really well. I will give you some minutes to look
through it. Let me share with you a successful story about sponsorship. It’s about Virginia.
It was her first time doing a public-speaking conference talk. At that time, she was a bit
hesitant. She’s thinking that project, I didn’t do it myself, my colleagues did it. She thinks
maybe she’s not the right person to give the talk. At that time, her manager found her
a conference, like, Virginia, this is a perfect fit for you to do the talk. What we can do
for you, is the team can give you a dry run, you got it, you can do it. Afterwards, it
was a really good career opportunity for Virginia, so that was a good example of what good sponsorship
looks like. With a sponsor, women are more likely to have their ideas endorsed, more
likely to see them develop and implemented. Now think about the people you last nominated
to be the project, recommended a book to, and referred to, to work at your company.
Out of all of these people, how many people are from an under represented background?
If the answer is not too many, then this is definitely something we can think about, because
to change the status quo, it doesn’t happen naturally, it requires to actively think about
it, and make actions towards that goal. Another aspect of our job is to recognise people for
the great work they do. And this is an important part to create a fair workplace culture. Studies
show that women’s ideas are taken less seriously compared to men. And this is not just in tech,
it also happens in other sectors like politics. In the White House, they have this strategy
called Amplification Strategy, so whenever a woman makes a key point, other women will
try to repeat that, and give credit to its author. … this about as well in meetings,
helping people who have less of a voice to speak up and get the recognition they deserve.
One thing that remind me of is something called Yelp Love. It doesn’t have to be Yelp Love
in specific. There are companies that have their own version. This does is you can send
love to your colleagues for something nice they do. It’s like a recognition. Maybe they
prepare you hot tea, nice to you that day, launched a very long project or maybe took
over on call rotation – who knows? One thing I do at Yelp is, whenever relaunch a product,
we prepare something called the Love Link. We reflect on the project and think about
every single person who contributed to it. This is a good exercise, because without this
process, we tend to give the credit to people who are loudest, people who are already pretty
famous inside the company, and we might leave out these voices that we didn’t hear. Another
way that something like Yelp Love can help is positive attribution, positive reinforcement.
So praise is not just a feel-good thing, it’s also a way to show people that – what kind
of things she should do more of. For example, if a person is normally pretty verbose and
takes a lot of space during meetings, and in this meeting they let other people speak,
they may ensure that they have a more equal speak time. This is a time we can slip in
a Yelp Love and tell them they did a good job here. This goes a long way especially
as a leader. This is how we change a person’s behaviour. This is how we change a team’s
culture. I also want to bring up practising ally skills. That means creating an inclusive
culture through speaking up against racist, sexist, or homophobic behaviours. To practise
these ally skills, we need to understand the privileges we have. These are something we
rely on. So, privilege means an unearned advantage given by society to some people but not all
people. It is probably something that we didn’t work for but we have. So, to be more concrete,
I’ve prepared a list coming from Frame Shift Consulting for you to check your own privilege.
I will give you a minute to go through that, and then I will share with you mine. All right,
great. Coming back to here, so I can share my privileges with you, I’m part of the dominant
ethnic or racial group growing up, because I’m from Hong Kong. I’m cisgender, straight,
not disabled, speak the dominant language – not German! [Laughter]. I’m not a mother,
not a care giver, I’m from an upper middle-class family. Pretty much I go through the whole
list. Sitting here, you could be a senior engineer, a tech lead, a manager, and we all
have some privileges that we can fall back on. What that means is that whenever we speak
up, it’s less likely we have to suffer that consequence of speaking up. Income, people
even think that it is an altruistic act for you to speak up for people who are under represented
but some people might not have the luxury that we might have. We want to encourage one
another to speak up and point out things that are not fair to others. I want you to encourage
and lead ally skills training, the environments where we can practise the best comeback, or
a way to deal with uncomfortable conversations, or situations that arise at work. One thing
that I want to share with you is, as a leader, before we encourage other people to way do
not a certainly behaviour, let’s try to set a good precedent. The reason why I’m bringing
this up is I have talks like this and people come up to me and say, this is interesting.
I’m going to show it is to so and so because they need to read this, I will show it to
X because they want to see it. I don’t see more of a self-reflection of what kind of
things we can do better ourselves as leaders. As we mentioned, being a leader, you have
more responsibilities, people look up to you. So it is important also to reflect upon one’s
self, and to admit the mistakes that we make because it’s not a shame to do that. To make
you feel better, I will tell you a mistake that I’ve made and how I dealt with it. It
was at an ally skills workshop that I was facilitating, showing people how to be more
inclusive to other people. Throughout the whole time, the camera was behind me like
this, and there was someone remote calling-in and I didn’t see this person at all, and I
had my back to them the whole time. They raised their hands wanting to speak and contribute
for several times. It was not until someone in the audience told me, Yenny, he wanted
to talk a few times already that I realised I totally ignored someone who called in. So
that was definitely a mistake. I didn’t feel good about it. The way we deal with it is
we apologised, we flexibility upon it, and then we do better next time. This is, I will
encourage to you do too. It’s not like we cannot make mistakes but we need to acknowledge
and then learn from the experience. Great. So I want to close off by saying that an inclusive
engineering culture is only a – an inclusive engineering culture is only available if everybody
is on board. I hope this talk will lead to a change in the tech culture. Let’s make this industry
a better place for everyone. Thank you!




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