SXSW Panel Discusses Promoting DEI in the Workplace

left-right: Iesha Berry, Erin L. Thomas, Paria Rajai, Emil Yeargin (Photo by Jessi Cape)

Wednesday’s DEI in Tech panel underscored the importance of sustaining – and amplifying – commitments to diversity in the rapidly changing tech world. Paria Rajai from ModelExpand moderated the conversation with Iesha Berry (DocuSign), Erin L. Thomas (Upwork), and Emil Yeargin (Gusto).

“Transparency is mission critical,” said Berry. Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DIBs) teams must set clear expectations, connect DEI efforts to goal-setting initiatives to measure productivity and involve executive leadership teams. The group also highlighted the importance of inclusivity beyond the more visible identity and diversity markers (such as race and gender), advocating for increased options for self-identifying and reporting. AI and other analytics tools were proposed as valuable resources for monitoring progress and identifying relevant metrics. DEI initiatives are best practice for all industries, but technology leaders specifically, they all agreed, must prioritize them despite economic pressures.

Another key takeaway was empowering teams and encouraging feedback from employees. “It’s a two-way street,” Thomas said. Because although DIB teams are not solely responsible for ensuring people actually do the work, it’s important that they create clear guidelines, provide great resources, and ask people in hiring roles what would help them improve the hiring process. Rajai shared how utilizing a predictive analytics tool to evaluate performance reviews in action, for example, was extremely useful in reducing manager biases and ensuring the feedback was specific to the individual and full of constructive, actionable suggestions for the employee to grow and improve.

Yeargin said that accountability is essential to building inclusive culture. And being an election year, he said, DEI will be, and should be, a focal point. “Impactful work may sometimes occur quietly, but it’s still happening. Celebrate daily wins and successes because the work is never done,” he said, adding, “And measure relentlessly to show impact.”

Measuring success is hinged on effective diversity and inclusion practices – and metrics are a big part of any good business plan. Thomas explained that by implementing strategic, data-driven approaches and fostering transparent communication, businesses can not only better weather challenges but also thrive by leveraging the diverse talents and perspectives within their organizations. Enhanced perspective directly ties to faster innovation and increased success.

“Bias breeds ambiguity,” she added. Yeargin noted that important components include creating “scope-appropriate” initiatives and making sure everyone knows what they’re accountable for and how it affects the bigger picture. After all, when hiring teams have better candidates to choose from – because they were properly vetted during an improved interview process – everyone wins.

DEI in Tech: Restoring Commitments During Challenging Times

Culture Track

Wednesday, March 13,11am, Hilton Austin Downtown, Salon K

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