Learning about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Bangalore meetup


The discussion at Business Agility Meetup - Bengaluru on June 26, 2021 was centred around the white paper published by the Business Agility Institute (BAI) about “Reimagining Agility with Diversity, Equity and Inclusion". Dr Ashay Saxena and Deanna Spowart, senior professionals of Agile community who conducted this research, presented the findings of this research to the audience. Gautam Shetty, Head of Talent Acquisition and Employer Branding at Maersk, presented his findings as a HR professional the practical scenarios of cultural adaptations of DEI at work places. This session was an eye opener towards multiple facets of DE&I that were expressed in Agile organisations. 

Story behind the start

The idea of conducting this research emerged when Evan Leybourn (Founder of Business Agility Institute) met Mark Green - founder of Agile Inclusion Revolution when Mark expressed his not so great experiences in Agile organisations. Thus started the research project with Mark as the Scrum Master along with Deanna and Ashay as participants. 

Research & Participants

Deanna started the session by stating the two key hypotheses drawn at the outset of the research process:

  1. Despite the positive intent, mindset and values of agile, agile organisations are at risk of further excluding marginalised staff and customers
  2. Organisations who embed Diversity, Equity & Inclusion directly into their agile transformations outperform those organisations who don’t

Decoding the difference between equity and equality, Deanna explained how equity becomes an enabler in getting different mix of voices at business. The research was conducted with 425 people originating from 26 countries. There were speakers of 59 languages and 33 religions (and some atheists). The diverse group of participants included men, women & non-binary groups, majority of them aged 35+, with 21.9% having disabilities and 6.8% oriented to LGBTQI+. The participants had diversity of thought as they represented different cultural, socio-economical and educational groups. 40.8% of participants had advanced understanding of Business Agility. 

Are we doing enough to welcome the DEI concepts at Agile workspaces?

Dr Ashay shared the key findings of the research and some of them were strikingly surprising.

  1. Though it is believed that Agile is more inclusive and equitable than what came before, about 17% of survey respondents expressed that the witnessed exclusion in inequity inside agile organisations and about 26% of them believed agile itself could actively create exclusion and inequity. 
  2. In case of Agile transformations, ways of working are not designed with DE&I in mind. Only about 11-20% of methods to build products and ways of working are consciously designed for inclusion and equity.
  3. Instances of bias and micro-aggressions persists inside agile organisations.
  4. Lack of trust and psychological safety in the workplace can have startling impacts to employee wellbeing. This potentially impacts employees performance, team dynamics, company culture and talent retention. 
  5. Organisations are intentionally aligning DE&I to their business strategy and values. The outcome of this has been positive with better products and solutions for their customers and communities they serve.

Ashay further narrated some of those personal stories shared by survey respondents that reflected persistence of bias, micro-aggression and exclusion within agile organisations. This could emerge from the Speed of work in agile organisations being higher which an employee with disabilities cannot cope up with OR the practice of daily stand up meetings that obstructs their religious prayers. In another case, a respondent expresses how a person who needs time to think is overlooked as Agile is very much “on the spot” and “who can talk”. 

Positive examples of intentionally designing for DE&I

Deanna highlighted some of those responses during the research that stated how some methods and practices in agile organisation were helpful for their better being at work and personal life. In some of those examples, people feel motivated with the culture of constant learning and concept of servant leadership that has lifted their spirits to perform at work. Some workshops designed to bring out ideas from both quiet and loud voices have been found useful to improve participation. From a service perspective, this serves an even better deal by enabling people to do things out of the box. In a specific example, Deanna narrated, a respondent explains how by including a “non-binary” option in the gender field a payroll product was made more inclusive. 

Opportunities available in an agile organisation to achieve DE&I

Ashay listed some of those points that can help agile organisations achieve DE&I at all levels:

  1. Intentionally align DE&I to business strategy, values, culture & mindset
  2. Leaders role model the desired behaviours especially empathy
  3. “Systems Thinking” approach - design inclusion & equity for all
  4. Create opportunities for to all employees to join, learn, develop and grow
  5. Diverse lived experience and thinking means better products & services
  6. Ability to serve more diverse customers & communities, new markets, revenue and social impacts

How does D&I apply in organisations?

Gautam Shetty shared a case study of how a luxury car brand found the design of their car fall short when a woman drove the car and found that there was no place for keeping her purse! This is a classic example of how inclusivity can help design better products. Padma Satyamurthy, convenor of the session, added to the example, by quoting from her experience of coaching at an automobile company where a left hander had felt excluded since all cars are designed for the convenience of right handed people.

How do you create an environment to keep practices of D&I beyond hiring? Say at non-working areas like coffee machines?

Don’t hire because a candidate has tick in the box, as it may make people feel agitated. Gautham expressed, it is important to sensitise teams about DE&I irrespective of whether you are hiring someone from the community or not. That helps employees to respond in an inclusive manner when they welcome a new member to the team. It is important to build ecosystems around DE&I; something like not making washrooms gender specific is a quintessential example. 

Does a quota system help in DE&I?

The panelists expressed that it does not help by having a quota system unless the percentage is defined and it is in alignment with keeping the quality standards intact. And also people don’t want to be seen as a part of the under-represented group. They need to be seen from their capability perspective and not from the colour of their skin or sexuality. It is more of the approach that should change in hiring managers to hire and mentor talented resources with fewer years of experience against hiring unicorns.

It was an insightful event with several questions from audience related to workplace DE&I scenarios.