patkua@work

The intersection of technology and leadership

Category: Diversity and Inclusion

5 Things You Can Do to Be More Inclusive as a Conference Speaker

Several years ago I spoke at a conference, well known for being diverse and inclusive. One speaker, in front of the entire crowd, made a cheap joke of PHP on stage. Instead of the expected laughter, there was an empty, awkward silence. Immediately afterwards, the host called out this unwanted behaviour in front of everyone.

I remind myself of this super-awkward situation when I prepare talks these days. As a speaker, I recognise I have a platform. With this privilege, I can encourage more inclusive environments.

Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance”

Vernā Myers

Here are five actions you can take to be more inclusive as a conference speaker:

1. Use gender neutral names

When telling a story, I substitute gender neutral names. Unsure about what you can use? Check out these Babynames.biz, BabyNames 1000 and Name Playground. Feeling even lazier? Try these three names: Casey, Kris, Morgan.

2. Use gender neutral pronouns

Avoid using “he” or “she” unless you’re referring to a very well-known person such as Ada Lovelace, Marissa Meyer or Bill Gates. Opt for terms like “you” or “they”. No one is going to notice and it’s more inclusive.

3. Increase your font size and use pictures, not (just) words

Imagine you’re sitting right at the back of an auditorium and you have bad eyesight. Imagine you have people’s heads in front of you. Huge text is simply more visible from way back. Don’t practice sitting in front of your computer. Practice from the other side of the room. Pictures can underscore what you’re saying and add to the story.

4. Avoid cheap jokes at the expense of others

It’s very human for communities to form around programming languages. It’s rude to make a cheap joke at the expense of another community. Be careful with your humour. What may be funny to you, may be offensive to others. Avoid being crass.

5. Encourage conferences to diversify representation and be more inclusive

I’ve declined speaking opportunities because speakers were 90% white men. Don’t accept the, “But it’s a pipeline problem,” excuse. Point them to Jez Humbles post, “How To Create A More Diverse Tech Conference.” Point them to examples like Craft Conference, Lead Dev London and GoTo Copenhagen. Ask if they have a Code of Conduct. Inquire about they do to be more inclusive. Some conferences offer vegan meals. Others offer child-minding facilities. Some offer diversity scholarships and conference guides. There are even conferences with a stenographer for live subtitles! It’s impressive to watch, particularly at a tech conference!

Your action can have a positive impact

We have made progress in improving D&I in some parts of the world and in some communities. If you speak at conferences or events, use your platform to nudge our industry in a better direction. We need all the help we can get.

I’d love to hear what worked for you in the past. Leave a comment about what you have done to increase inclusion.

Diversify Your Twitter Feed in Five Easy Steps

I recently came across Diversify Your Feed. It reminded me of a tool I forgot, called “Proporti.onl.” Both tools estimate the gender distribution of people you follow on twitter. I was interested to see how my twitter feed did.

Initial results from http://diversifyyourfeed.org/

What a surprise and disappointment!

There are many reasons to support diversity. A 2018 study from BCG found that diverse management generates up to 38% more innovation revenue. The analysis went further to find four key diversity factors that influence this too:

  • Industry background;
  • Country of Origin;
  • Career Path; and
  • Gender

Inclusion matters as much as diversity. After all, there’s no point in finding diverse sets of people if your environment excludes them from contributing. I also realise there are many other types of diversity other than gender. I can imagine writing a tool to categorise other types of diversity may be much harder.

I wasn’t expecting a 50-50 ratio for men/women for my twitter. I was surprised that my twitter account scored really really low! Here are five steps I took to diversify my own feed. I hope they serve you well too.

1. Collect data on your feed today

Run “Diversify Your Feed” and “Proporti.onl” to see how far off your feed is. You influence less the followers you have, but you can control who you follow.

2. Find inspiration from tech conferences with a diverse set of speakers

Many modern tech conferences recognise that diversity and inclusion are important. Many support blind CFPs, or specifically ask if people identify with a minority group. Others reach out to proactively build a diverse speaking group. Many try to support and inclusive environment with tools like a Code of Conduct.

Find conferences who list speakers from previous years. Focus on connecting with different speakers from more diverse backgrounds. My favourite diverse and inclusive conferences include the GoTo series (Amsterdam, Berlin,Copenhagen, Chicago), LeadDev (Austin, London, New York), Craft Conference, and the Pipeline Conference.

3. Look at curated lists

Some websites have done the hard work of searching for people and give you a good springboard to start following new people. Try:

I searched for terms like “inspirational women twitter”, “women in tech 2018,” and “great women leaders list.” I’m sure you’ll find others too.

4. Look at their “Followers”

People are often connected to people like themselves. Twitter makes it very easy to look at people’s followers. Look through a person’s followers list for inspiration. Using this approach helped me find connections I would never have before found.

5. Take action and follow them

I used to have specific rules when following people. For example, I had a rule that I would follow someone I either worked with before, or least met them in real life. Don’t let rules like these hold you back from being exposed to more diverse ideas and opinions.

You can unfollow people if your feed becomes too noisy or less relevant.

Give people a chance. Follow a broader selection of people today.

You may wonder what applying these rules did for me. The result? See below:

A few days later

What’s your tip to diversify your feed?

With a little bit of data and a few concrete tips, I am exposed to more diverse thoughts and people. I hope these tips help you as well.

Leave a comment if you have additional resources or tips!

Goodbye CTO, Hello Chief Scientist

What was the Challenge?

Hypergrowth land is fun. Things change all the time. My challenge as a CTO was to shake-up the early-stage startup “snowglobe.” It was to transform “start-up” habits into a “scale-up” culture. It was to prepare and launch into hypergrowth. I took on this challenge because I saw the kernel of engineering talent that I could nurture and support.

What Changed?

Looking back at the time I’ve been there (it feels like ages in startup time!), so many things have improved. It’s hard to count all changes as the company constantly evolves. Here are some of the changes I’m proud to have influenced:

  • Clear priorities – It’s easy to fall into reactionary mode and want to switch gears all the time. As the old saying goes, “If everyone is a priority, then nothing is a priority.” Engineering is always the bottleneck. Ideas are cheap. Ideas are easy. You have 5 ideas. I have 5 ideas. Engineers have 5 ideas. To maximise our opportunity, we needed to be clearer about where to focus attention. We now have a better planning process that enables clearer trade-offs and decisions.
  • Almost 4x tech growth – When I first started, I looked around asking, “Where are all the engineers?” Our ratio of tech to non-tech was way off! We worked hard with the People team to change our recruiting strategy. We improved our onboarding process. I spent a lot of personal time writing articles and speaking on our engineering culture. The result? Tech is almost 4x the people compared to when I started. We also managed this while continually delivering value to customers too.
  • A clear Target Operating Model – Change is hard. What helps is a shared picture of how we wanted to scale Product & Tech. You can’t have more people working on the same problem. You need to create a clear focus. You need to encourage high cohesion and low coupling across people and teams. We established a shared Product & Tech Target Operating Model. This model visualises and explains new structures, processes and how they fit together. Each iteration aims to addresses organisational smells and maximise Autonomy and Alignment. We’re working on our 3rd iteration of this now.
  • Product versus Portfolio Management – We have individual product area priorities. We also have cross-cutting projects. We now can focus on ensuring the bottleneck or critical path has full support and attention. We can manage both product and portfolio priorities well.
  • Fuller life cycle ownership in teams – When I arrived, we already had cross-functional teams. Not all teams were responsible for the full “life cycle” of a product. Sometimes back-office or operational processes belonged to a different team. The separation lead to queues and bottlenecks. Our teams are on a journey of integrating more responsibilities. They continue to extend the definition of done to remove hand-overs. We build security and quality in from the start. Teams can better respond to customer issues, incidents and build new or on existing products.
  • Technical governance practices that scale – As we grow, we also focus on alignment where it makes sense. Organisations can only support a certain amount of variation or entropy. Alignment helps. We adopted a lightweight RFC process and iterated on our internal Tech Radar. We built decentralised support structures like Technical Working Groups and an Architecture guild. These work without relying on the same individuals to make decisions.
  • Three Product and Technology Hubs around the world – We’ve moved from being completely centralised in Berlin to operating three successful P&T hubs in Barcelona, New York City and Berlin. We transitioned major product ownership to one office as it grew. The team evolved and released completely new features and services in record time. We’ve maintained speed and throughput, and quality remains high.
  • Rapid growth of individuals – As a I leader I invest in people I work with. I’ve mentored, coached and trained many individually personally. It’s wonderful to see how it’s accelerated people’s growth. People have better ways to deal with imposter syndrome. Engineers have more impact and influence through stronger leadership skills. Better yet, I know they have done this with an explicit support.
  • Diversity, inclusion and culture – I remember one big change I first made was removing a degree requirement for engineers. I created the #diversity slack channel. I sponsored the celebrations for International Women’s Day. This lead to a wonderful support of CSD in Berlin. Watch this amazing video! I know we’re not perfect but we are improving. Our gender ratio in tech can still improve. We have, however, built an inclusive culture where everyone in Product & Tech can express ideas in safety.

What’s next?

The CTO is one of the most confusing roles. Some call it a chameleon role. Companies have different requirements of the role. It changes rapidly in the same company (particularly one going through hypergrowth). There are just many different explanations. As our company grows, the needs of the CTO role grow and change.

As a leader, I found myself asking others (and myself), “How does this scale?” I’m constantly looking at ways to scale myself too. To scale with the growing set of responsibilities, we are splitting this role.

The CTO for our company, in our stage, demands a more operational, management and inward focus. I will step into a new role called, “Chief Scientist.” This new role takes a more outward focus and still guides the technical direction and growth of the tech team.

Our “Chief Scientist” role focuses on three areas:

  1. Representing the external face of technology
  2. Supporting and enriching technical decisions
  3. Accelerating the growth of people in our technical team

I’m look forward to refocusing my attention and energy. These areas not only bring significant value to the company, but also play to my strengths. Here’s to embracing constant change, evolution and experimentation!

Sekt on a mountain

PS. If you’re interested in joining me on building the bank the world loves to use, check out our open opportunities.

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