How to foster an inclusive environment for your engineering team

As teams of all types continue to grow and hiring people from all over the world is easier, now more than ever, teams need to be as inclusive and welcoming as possible if they want to perform at their highest level. Making sure everyone on the team is included will not only help the team be more productive but ensure everyone feels comfortable bringing their ideas and suggestions to the work your organization is doing.

In this article, we’ll dive into why creating an inclusive environment for your engineering team is important and some of the key ways you can start to make it happen.

Investing in inclusivity is critical

Outside of the purely intrinsic value of promoting inclusivity within your organizations and engineering teams, there are some very concrete reasons why inclusive teams are preferable over alternatives, including the following:

Level the playing field

Most engineering teams are made up of employees with different levels of experience and skill. However, on teams that are less inclusive, more junior team members can feel intimidated and, therefore, not contribute as frequently.

Since some of the more valuable traits of junior developers or people new to the team are questioning established norms and being curious about engineering decisions as they’re made, silencing this curiosity, even just through implicit exclusivity, hurts the team as a whole. By building a team that is inclusive of everyone’s opinions, the team as a whole becomes stronger.

Reduce talent attrition

Hiring engineers is, in most cases, difficult and expensive. Retaining the engineers you have already hired is usually a better proposition for both the organization as a whole as well as the engineering team that gets to avoid the turmoil that can come with a new hire.

When you build an inclusive team, you are building one that encourages great engineers to stick around and be part of the team. By keeping your team members around longer, you give the team more time to grow, reduce the time spent on interviewing and hiring, and can spend even more time focused on making your organization the best it can be.

Improve team decisions based on diverse view points

History is filled with stories of teams making poor decisions that could have been avoided with a more diverse team. One of the best examples is cars with names that mean something very different in other languages. Between examples like that, experiences with AI biases and a lack of inclusivity on engineering teams mean decisions are often made that are not in the best interest of the team, simply from a lack of diverse viewpoints.

By including more diverse viewpoints on your team, you’ll be able to ship more robust software that avoids many of the potential pitfalls that await less-inclusive teams.

Build trust and resonance with customers

Similar to how having more diverse viewpoints on your team can help you avoid embarrassing incidents, it can also help your engineering team make better interface decisions and use language that resonates with a larger number of users. By building an inclusive team, you’re more likely to end up with software that your users feel connected to, as your development team as a whole will more closely mirror your user base.

How to foster an inclusive environment:

The benefits previously discussed aren’t very useful if they’re not actually implemented in your team. Take a look at some of the ways you can encourage inclusivity on your engineering teams:

Incorporate inclusivity into your workplace culture guidelines

Especially if inclusivity is something your organization has struggled with in the past, explicitly calling it out in official workplace documentation is a good start. Whether this is a handbook or an all-hands meeting, making sure everyone is aware that inclusivity is a priority in the organization going forward is a great place to start. This sets the tone for new hires but also for existing employees. When everyone from the top of the organization down is focused on making inclusivity a core component of the organization’s culture, it will become the norm over time and help everyone in the organization be more inclusive overall.

Recognize good work on your team

One of the most straightforward ways to make everyone on your team feel included and feel like they’re all working together toward the same goals is to recognize good work on your team when it happens. By specifically calling out good work, even by members of the team who might be new or have traditionally less-visible roles on the team, you’re taking a big step toward fostering an environment where everyone feels comfortable praising others when they’ve done a good job as opposed to trying to out-compete others on the team. This, in turn, creates an environment that’s more welcoming to newcomers and more inclusive in general.

Promote nonwork communication

When a team only focuses on work-related communication, the discussion tends to be dominated by more senior members of the team or those who are more familiar with the codebase and problems at hand. However, by opening up the discussion to nonwork topics and encouraging nonwork communication, you can encourage team members who aren’t normally as involved in the conversation to contribute as well. When you make sure everyone feels they can contribute to the discussion, you create a more inclusive environment that involves the entire team, which can help even work-related communication start to become more inclusive as well. As every member of your team becomes more comfortable sharing and adding to the discussion, your entire team will be more inclusive and better off for it.

Provide mentoring and professional development opportunities

One of the hallmarks of a noninclusive team is one where opportunities to advance aren’t spread across the entire team. However, by specifically including mentoring and professional development opportunities as part of your team’s day-to-day activities, you both make the team more welcoming to newcomers who may not have had those sorts of opportunities thus far in their career, as well as allow some of the more senior members of your team to gain mentorship and teaching experience.

This can be anything from frequent pair and/or mob programming so that everyone can benefit from seeing how other members of their team think about problems, all the way up to sponsoring conference attendance or continuing education around the work that your team is doing.

By helping members of your team continue to grow and advance, not only will you be creating a more inclusive team experience, but you will also be making your team, as a whole, better and will be able to benefit from everyone’s increased experience.

Reassess and improve over time

As with any change in process, you’re not going to get it completely right the first time, and it’s not going to happen overnight. As you work through making your team more inclusive, check in with your team members and ask them how they think things are going and if there are any other ways you might continue to improve as a team. By continually checking in, you can make sure that your efforts don’t stall and turn into something that sounds good on paper but never actually gets implemented or doesn’t get implemented to its fullest potential.

Last thoughts

Building engineering teams who can do the work they’re assigned can be difficult, but even more difficult is building teams around an inclusive culture that makes everyone feel comfortable contributing and helping the team move forward. However, teams that are inclusive are able to better retain their people, work through difficult problems, and benefit from the variety of perspectives that everyone brings to the table.

By setting an expectation of inclusivity from the very start, working to bring everyone on your team into discussions, and continually reevaluating your efforts and working to improve, you can ensure your engineering team is as inclusive as it can be.

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