Anyone who has attended a RIPE event previously knows just how much value they have to offer, and how much influence they have in the industry. At RIPE 86, there were plenty of excellent talks and gatherings to enjoy. In this post, we’d like to focus on one session in particular that highlighted an important topic that requires ongoing attention – Diversity in Tech.
A Focus on Age
There are many different lenses through which diversity can be viewed, and all are important. Underrepresented groups in every field are crucial to elevate, which requires support on every level within an organization. Tech is no exception. The more voices that are heard, the more perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences are brought to the table. Inevitably, this drives innovative solutions to meet the needs and inspire a wider, more diverse audience.
The spotlight during RIPE 86’s Diversity in Tech session focused on age. Too often, it is the case that only more senior, experienced individuals are given a voice. For a variety of reasons, it is often difficult for younger voices in any profession to have their opinions listened to and incorporated into larger organizational decisions. In some cases, these limitations come from a lack of conscious internal support, and unfortunately, sometimes the barriers are institutional. For example:
- Do younger hires feel comfortable voicing their ideas and concerns?
- Will they be listened to if they do speak up? Will there be retaliation?
- Are younger members in a supervisory role empowered to make decisions?
- If an idea is bad, will they be provided feedback on ways to improve?
- Is there a clear path in how to participate in helping the decision come to fruition?
Notable Industry Names
Giving weight to this Diversity in Tech session was a range of professionals from the industry, including Claudia Leopardi, RIPE NCC, and Edward McNair, NANOG, joined by Mirja Kuehlewind, IETF, and Z. Blace, Wikimedian.
With so much industry knowledge on the panel, including young professionals who could speak on the experience of the challenge that comes with no seniority, there were great lessons to be learned here for every team, no matter the size or composition of an organization.
A Couple of Interesting Takeaways
There is a lot to be learned from this session, and spending an hour watching the available video is well worth your time. As a starting point, there are a couple of good lessons that can quickly be pulled out of this discussion –
- Age can be intimidating. It’s hard for established professionals in any industry to remember what it was like to be young and unproven in their field. As highlighted by Claudia Leopardi, even acknowledging how young you are in a professional setting can be intimidating or nerve-wracking. For businesses and organizations to get the most out of their youngest members, a culture of inclusion that doesn’t discount the inexperienced should be an important goal.
- Diversity isn’t an accident. Edward McNair explained that for any organization to be successfully diverse, a focused effort must be in place to make that happen. Diversity won’t just occur in a business if the matter is ignored – it must be fostered, valued, and protected to make sure that everyone is included, welcomed, and represented properly.
- Leopardi recognized the high expectations she had for herself coming into the job out of school, and how her colleagues had “more realistic” expectations of her – and that it is okay to realize that you are not going to know everything out of the gate (not understanding industry acronyms, as an example), and that it’s okay to take the time to build up your skills and understand over time.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Improving the diversity of people represented in various roles throughout tech is something that is going to demand innovative solutions and open-minded thinking from everyone in the industry. Sessions like the Diversity in Tech meeting held during RIPE 86 are certainly a step in the right direction, and future events will likely have similar opportunities for new voices to be heard and new perspectives to be shared.
Potential Next Steps at Your Own Organization
Driving change at any organization can be challenging, but we heard a few points that may provide some ideas on how to take some of the observations above and address them in actionable ways through daily interactions. While this is no means a complete list, hopefully it sparks some ideas on how some interactions in your organization could be improved.
Idea 1: Include more junior employees as observers in higher-level meetings to familiarize them with company processes, terminology and how decisions are made in the organization.
Follow up: Check in with the junior employee afterward to see how their feedback would factor into the meeting. This provides a crucial bridge to a shared understanding of how organization cultures work and how influence can result in long term change.
Idea 2: See what efforts your organization already does (or doesn’t) to set realistic expectations for junior employees and create career growth paths for them to expand their skills.
Follow up: Ideally organizations have this information handy, but it is not uncommon for these types of programs to be present, just not actively communicated to the teams. By understanding what is available for junior employee advancement, it can provide valuable data points for internal knowledge (internships, mentorship, projects, check in meetings)
Idea 3: Proactively include junior employees in meetings and work sessions. These would include opportunities to share their opinions and observations in a manner that is comfortable for all involved. There are also significant benefits of using these sessions in cross-disciplinary functions. Junior employees may have very limited work experience outside of their field of study – this can be a great opportunity to show how an organization works together toward a common goal.
Follow up: Sharing of opinions is expected to create learning opportunities and hopefully some lively discussion. Ensuring that dialog stays respectful is crucial along with acknowledgement of ideas (good and bad), especially with reasoning as to why. Framing these outcomes both on a personal level and an organizational level is important to getting to true understanding.
Even if you desire a more diverse group, that doesn’t mean they will come automatically. Specific efforts need to be made to expand diversity and encourage learning between different groups:
- Develop programs and events for newcomers and young employees
- Mentoring, tutorials, learning materials, social dinners / meet and greets
- Build bridges between academia, research, and engineers to encourage exchanges of ideas between different groups.
- Review internal processes, applicant requirements, and workgroups for systemic or unconscious bias towards only a specific type of employee and identify methods to increase diversity inclusion.
- Develop a diversity committee to discuss and encourage internal diversity
Diversity in hiring doesn’t happen magically. It takes a concerted effort from all levels to implement and sustain. Seek out diverse employees and candidates, create and maintain a space for those employees to thrive, and be committed to reviewing internally for areas to improve and opportunities to elevate.