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Some thoughts on Project Include: a valuable diversity resource from a great team

5 min read

Now that's what I call a high-profile launch!  

The first coverage for Project Include's effort to accelerate diversity and inclusion solutions in the tech industry was in the New York Times, which helpfully set it in context of the work that Kimberly Bryant and Laura Weidman have been doing with of Black Girls Code and Powers of Code 2040.  Then it got picked up by Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, ABC News, Huffington Post, Vanity Fair, and even The Onion as well as the usual tech press suspects like TechCrunch, Engadget, and The Verge....  

No surprise, really: the media hook of Ellen Pao bouncing back after resigning as Reddit's CEO and losing her high-profile discrimination suit against venture capital firm Kleiner-Perkins is hard to resist.  Fortunately, Project Include's got a fantastic team, outstanding content, and well-thought-out plan going forward -- so the attention is well-deserved.

True diversity means including all underrepresented groups across all aspects of a company and measuring outcomes so everyone has a fair opportunity to succeed — and ultimately building better teams, better companies and better results.

-- About Project Include

The core of the site is seven categories of customizable recommendations: defining culture, implementing culture, employee lifecycle, training, resolving conflicts, measuring progress, and leading as VCs.   The recommendations are primarily focused on CEOs and management of startups early to mid-stage startups, although most of them are very relevant to organizations of any size that are really committed to diversity and inclusion.  The combination of these different areas is an excellent snapshot of today's best practices for building a diverse and inclusive company.

Diversity is tricky and complex, and Project Include's material really respects that.  Each category discusses why they chose this area, how they think about it, concerns (for example, "The wrong metrics can present a misleading view of system health, and optimizing against them can produce distorted outcomes"), specific recommendations, and a list of resources.  The recommendations are excellent, with solid references to support them; and the strength and diversity of the team really shines through here:

  • Engineers bethanye McKinney Blount, Tracy Chou, and Erica Joy Baker have first-hand experience in the trenches and a lot to say about culture.  Chou is also an expert on diversity metrics, and Blount an experienced engineering manager and VP.
  • Freada Kapor Klein and Susan Wu, along with Pao, bring investor perspectives.
  • Readyset's Y-Vonne Hutchison and Atipica's Laura I. Gómez have expertise in recruiting, hiring, and employment policy

Why yes, now that you mention it, the team's strengths do in fact cover all the categories of recommendations.  Talk about an all-star team!

There's so much to like about the Project Include site that a brief summary can't do it justice, but two more things I want to call out are their evidence on a comprehensive approach (as opposed to one-off initiatives that at best address individual symptoms) and the breadth their view of diversity.  As well as race and gender, their case studies page discusses nonbinary people, LGBTQA people, transgender people, disabled people, caregivers, and religious backgrounds --  with scenarios and recommendations of what to do (and what not to do) for each.  This kind of inclusive approach respects the complexities of each dimension of diversity while highlighting the commonalities and synergies between them.

In other words, Project Include's site is already a great resource.  Their next steps are to work with a couple dozen early-to-mid stage startups for six months to refine and measure the effect of their recommendations. They're also talking about building a community, although it's not clear what the format or timeframe is on that.  While they're initially focusing on CEOs and management of startups, along with the VCs who fund them, a lot of the content is potentially useful much more broadly, including for smaller bootstrapping companies, non-profits and open-source projects.  Plus it's all Creative Commons'ed so can be remixed and repackaged for other purposes!

It's funny, a few weeks ago when Tammarrian Rogers and I were working on the proposal for our Open Source Bridge session on Supporting diversity with a new approach to software, several people encouraged us to focus more on the cultural and organizational aspects than on the software engineering side.  I'd usually reply by highlighting the complementary nature of the two, note that I've got a lot of expertise on the software engineering side, and end by saying "of course the cultural and organizational aspects are incredibly important, and you've got to start there, but quite frankly I think there are other people who have a lot more to say on that front than me."   When I'm right, I'm right :)

In the future, we’d like to look back at this period as a turning point. Out of this groundswell of attention and activity, how do we ensure that initiatives succeed and have lasting positive and meaningful impact? ... How do we work together to cause meaningful transformation — in behavior, in expectations, in standards — across all areas of the tech industry?

As Tammarrian I said in A new approach to software, the industry is primed for change.  There's plenty of evidence that diverse teams outperfom, but a lot of companies and investors who want to improve diversity and inclusion don't know where to start.  High-visibility high-quality content like Project Include is providing can make a huge difference, especially if it's coupled with a community of people sharing their experiences, measuring what works, and refining the recommendations.

So I'm optimistic that we will indeed look back on this period as a turning point.  And with so much visibility, the fantastic team, excellent content, and a solid plan going forward, Project Include is indeed well-positioned to have a positive and meaningful impact.