By Jared Karol
In her role as Head of Global Diversity & Inclusion at Symantec, Ruha Devanesan is constantly thinking of innovative ways to create a more inclusive workplace environment. One strategy she is exploring is to apply the Agile Methodology — a product management approach historically used by technical teams — to all teams within the company. This is a creative idea, and one that could work really well, if implemented and carried out with intentionality.
Speaking at the San Francisco Tech Inclusion Conference last fall, Ruha said, “Agile teams value individuals and interactions over processes. Collaboration and cross functional teams are a huge priority.” Agile teams also move really quickly, working in two week sprints on one project before moving onto the next one. And, central to the Agile Methodology is a daily standup where each team member talks about what they’ve worked on and where they need help. From the perspective of building an inclusive work environment, this step is crucial, according to Ruha: “It’s important for managers to take the role of making sure that every team member knows that their ambitions and their development are being taken into account.”
“The daily standup is a good opportunity to get the quieter people on the team to be able to be heard,” says Ruha. By putting a structure in place, it ensures that not just the loudest or most talkative people get all the air time. “Every individual on the team gets to talk about what they’re doing. Individuals on the team are encouraged to help each other if they’re blocked.”
As is often the case, building an inclusive tech ecosystem requires intentionality, and the Agile Methodology has this built in, so it supports Ruha’s suspicion that it could be a great strategy for inclusivity. “The fact the agile teams are built to leverage functional diversity,” she says, “gives them the potential to be able to bring in diverse perspectives and it gives them that prioritization of diverse perspectives in the process.”
It is this prioritization that helps keep inclusivity at the top of mind, something that we know is important to creating inclusive work environments. Furthermore, there is an active structure in place that encourages the team to be reflective on their process. At the end of the sprint, the team talks about how the work went, and what needs to be done to improve the process next time. In this retrospective, the team “talks about the how,” Ruha says. “They talk about what they could have done better to work more effectively as a team.”
“Retrospectives are another really powerful tool,” emphasizes Ruha. “Imagine if every team stopped every once in awhile and evaluated how they were working as a team. When you give yourself an opportunity to talk about team dynamics you can bring up issues that can otherwise go unaddressed.” Having open and timely conversations, in other words, can lead to revelations that can have major impact on how people experience their work — individually and collectively.
This all matters because we know that diversity is a lot more than what’s above the waterline of visibility — skin color, race, gender, age. “There’s so much beneath the surface that contributes to who we are as individuals and how we work as individuals within an organization,” Ruha reminds us. “When we’re talking about inclusion we’re talking about a lot of those things beneath the surface that make up who we are as individuals.”
Diversity is complex and individuals are complex, and, Ruha says, “when you put a bunch of complex individuals together you can end up with miscommunication. You can end up with people not being able to work with each other effectively.” And that’s why Ruha thinks we can borrow from Agile Methodology. “Inclusion is something intentional that you have to work on in order to be able to leverage diversity and unlock the power of diversity of teams.”
The business case for diverse teams is solid. Diverse teams are more productive, more innovative, and lead to a better bottom line. And when that happens, everyone is happy.
Watch the full talk below or here.
Ruha Devanesan on Using Agile Methodology to Create More Inclusive Teams