Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Four Mistakes and What We’ve Learned
One of our goals at Wistia is to be open about our journey in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I). Earlier this year, we kicked things off by launching a new page dedicated to our DE&I efforts, a blog about our vision, and we recently released a new podcast that talks candidly about what it takes to build a better workplace.
While we’ve touched on our goals and how we’re taking steps in the right direction, we haven’t shared some of the things that didn’t go according to plan. We’re not perfect, and we want to be completely open about our journey — sharing both the good and the bad. This is one of those posts where we share what hasn’t gone so well. Let’s walk through what we’ve learned.
Mistake 1: We didn’t have a North Star
In 2018, we worked with a DE&I Consulting group — Diversity @ Workplace — to help us find gaps and develop a three-year plan to address them. After two months of learning, the team pulled together our initiatives and placed them under three different pillars of work. It looked a little bit like this:
We felt pretty good about this plan. It seemed really helpful to have a roadmap of things to work on and that it would make our work more sustainable.
It was missing something, though. That something? Well, we didn’t define where we wanted to go as a business. We didn’t establish our “North Star” vision if you will. As a result, initiatives looked like individual tasks — not pieces of a much larger, enduring mission.
What we learned
Without a North Star, it was challenging for people to piece together why we were working on specific initiatives. And it was also hard for our team to internalize a broader mission to apply in their work. Plus, it wasn’t clear how we could adapt if one of these initiatives failed — because we weren’t crystal clear on what we were trying to accomplish.
Lastly, without clear goals in place, it was challenging to measure progress or what steps to take once a task was completed.
“If we had taken time to clearly articulate our mission and vision for each pillar, communication would’ve been easier, we would’ve been more aligned, and every Wistian would’ve felt more empowered to contribute.”
If we had taken time to clearly articulate our mission and vision for each pillar, communication would’ve been easier, we would’ve been more aligned, and every Wistian would’ve felt more empowered to contribute. It took a hard reset for us in 2020 to realize that without the vision, our plan would remain a set of tasks — instead of the living, breathing call to action we wanted our whole team to incorporate into their work and push forward.
Mistake 2: We didn’t communicate the entire plan
Those grids you see above? Most of our team hadn’t seen them in their full form before it was published externally. That’s not ideal. It’s a pretty obvious mistake in hindsight, but we didn’t publish or do a company-wide roll-out of the original three-year strategy.
We did talk about the pillars and themes of work, plus some of the initiatives we were working on. But, there was no moment where the entire company saw all of the initiatives in one place and could put the full picture together.
At the time, we weren’t sure we’d be able to execute on all of the initiatives with a small team and didn’t want to set unrealistic expectations or undermine confidence in our ability to make progress. There was sound logic behind the call to not fully release — there often is — but it wasn’t the right decision.
What we learned
A better path would have been to openly discuss the three-year plan, proactively identifying the challenges and real business risks of understaffing, and set realistic priorities given those limitations. This would have unlocked a lot for us. For one, folks across the company would have better understood how DE&I fit with other company priorities and some of the bottlenecks for work.
“A better path would have been to openly discuss the three-year plan, proactively identifying the challenges and real business risks of understaffing, and set realistic priorities given those limitations.”
Secondly, this would have empowered teams to proactively look at their systems and work to incorporate into their initiatives where it made sense versus waiting for top-down direction. DE&I work can’t be successful if it’s not embedded across the company. We missed an opportunity to empower teams earlier to think about their systems and initiatives.
After rebooting our strategy, defining our North Star, building out new initiatives, and defining what success looks like for us (KPIs), we shared everything with the company and have made it an accessible document to everyone. We still need to incorporate it into our onboarding process, but making everything transparent has been an important step for us.
Mistake 3: We didn’t communicate regularly
Our DE&I updates to the company were intermittent. There were a lot of things to communicate to the business in 2019, including many updates from the People team on new processes and HR initiatives. This left us picking and choosing between several things to share and, ultimately, resulted in less proactive communication on how we were progressing on our three-year plan, or discussions about what we were learning.
We have some great forums at Wistia for our team to share work and updates. We regularly hold a company-wide meeting, Show & Tell, for regular, smaller updates to share work and learnings. All Hands Meetings and our All Managers Meetings are typically reserved for bigger, more polished updates on completed initiatives or updated plans. Our communication on DE&I work was only shared at All Hands Meetings. This meant our updates happened less frequently and we unintentionally created a black hole for information, making it hard for the team to understand what was happening.
What we learned
We’re still learning here, and communication remains a challenge. While we’ve been more transparent and proactive in communicating the company’s vision, pillars, and goals, finding the time to provide regular updates and learnings is still something for us to work through as a growing business. We’ve only been successful when we’ve been very intentional about setting deadlines and determining owners for a presentation. We need to do better here.
Mistake 4: We didn’t staff all of the work
When you scan the list of work from our initial three-year strategy, it was a lot for an 85-person company to take on in a year, particularly while growing the team and business. We knew it was a lot to take on. But, we felt like we’d be able to move quickly on initiatives that tightly aligned with work that the People team and Product teams had already planned to take on.
That, however, left some initiatives with no ownership or clarity on how we’d make progress. If you want any business initiative to be successful, you need a clear path with clear directions and progress markers. Without that, we were on the wrong path.
What we learned
Looking back, we should’ve had strategic discussions on staffing the work and what trade-offs we were willing (and unwilling) to make.
Normally, when we have a stream of work that isn’t properly resourced, we evaluate whether we need to hire to support the work, reallocate existing folks to take on the work, or deprioritize the initiative until there is a clear path to staffing the work.
Deciding not to do this was essentially de-prioritizing the work by committing to a no-decision. The work that we were able to accomplish was aligned closely with other business initiatives that were properly staffed, and we just incorporated DE&I efforts into that existing work.
“Looking back, we should’ve had strategic discussions on staffing the work and what trade-offs we were willing (and unwilling) to make”
We’ve thought through longer-term staffing and designated two people as team leads to drive work on two of the pillars of work. Additionally, we’re hoping that creating a DE&I Council will help ensure better oversight of — and support for — some of our DE&I work while also incorporating a DE&I lens into more of our business decisions. That said, with the amount we want to do (both in DE&I and for the overall business), fully staffing the work still remains a challenge that we’re working to solve for the longer term.
Looking ahead at Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
We know there’s a lot more to learn, and we plan to keep sharing it with all of you. We hope that being transparent about our mistakes helps you avoid making the same ones. Can you relate to what we shared? What DE&I initiatives are you excited about at your organization? Let us know in the comments below.