"The report highlights that Interaction, collaboration, and helping every team member reach their potential is what makes agile work. I loved chatting about the overlaps in those values with diversity, equity and inclusion." - Terlya Hunt
In this episode join Terlya Hunt - Head of People & Culture at Easy Agile and Caitlin Mackie - Marketing Coordinator at Easy Agile, as they chat with Jazmin Chamizo and Rakesh Singh.
Jazmin and Rakesh are principal contributors of the recently published report "Reimagining Agility with Diversity, Equity and Inclusion".
The report explores the intersection between agile, business agility, and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I), as well as the state of inclusivity and equity inside agile organizations.
“People are the beating heart of agile. If people are not empowered by inclusive and equitable environments, agile doesn't work. If agile doesn't work, agile organisations can't work."
📌 What led to writing the report
📌 Where the misalignments lie
📌 What we can be doing differently as individuals and business leaders
Be sure to subscribe, enjoy the episode 🎧
Hi, everyone. Thanks for joining us for another episode of the Easy Agile podcast. I'm Terlya, People & Culture business partner in Easy Agile.
And I'm Caitlin, marketing coordinator at Easy Agile. And we'll be your hosts for this episode.
Before we begin, Easy Agile would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land from which we broadcast today, the Wodiwodi people of the Dharawal nation, and pay our respects to the elders past, present and emerging, and extend the same respect to any Aboriginal people listening with us today.
Today, we'll be joined by Jazmin Chamizo and Rakesh Singh. Both Jazmin and Rakesh are principal contributors and researchers of Reimagining Agile for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, a report that explores the intersection between Agile business agility and diversity equity and inclusion published in May, 2021.
We're really excited to have Jazmin and Rakesh join us today. So let's jump in.
So Jazmin and Rakesh, thank you so much for joining us today. We're so excited to be here with you both today, having the conversation. So I suppose today we'll be unpacking and asking you questions in relation to the report, which you were both principal contributors of, Reimagining Agility with Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. So for our audience tuning in today who may be unfamiliar the report, Jazmin, could you please give us a summary of what it's all about?
Absolutely. And first of all, thank you so much for having us here today and for your interest in our report. Just to give you a little bit of background of our research and how everything started out, the founder and the owner of the Business Agility Institute, Evan Leybourn, he actually attended a talk given by Mark Green. And Mark who used to be, I mean, an Agile coach, he was referring to his not very positive experience with Agile. So this actually grabbed the attention of Evan, who was a big advocate of agility, as all of us are. And they decided to embark upon this adventure and do some research trying to probe on and investigate the potential relationship between diversity, equity and inclusion and Agile.
So we had, I mean, a couple of hypothesis at the beginning of the research. And the first of hypothesis was that despite the positive intent of agility and despite the positive mindset and the values of Agile, which we all share, Agile organizations may be at the risk of further excluding marginalized staff and customers. And the second hypothesis that we had was that organizations who actually embed diversity, equity and inclusion directly into their Agile transformation and then strategy may outperform those organizations who don't. So we actually spent more than a year interviewing different participants from many different countries. And we actually ended up seeing that those hypothesis are true. And today, we would like to share with you, I mean, part of this research and also need to encourage you to read the whole report and also contribute to this discussion.
Amazing. And Jazmin, you touched on this a little bit in your answer just then, but I guess, Rakesh, could you tell us a bit more about what was the inspiration and catalyst for writing this report?
Yeah. So thanks for inviting once again. And it's a great [inaudible 00:03:51] talk about this beautiful project. The BAI was actually into this activity for a long time, and I happened to hear one of the presentation from Evan and this presentation actually got me interested into business agility and associated with DEI. So that was one thing. And second thing when Evan talked about this particular project, invited all of us, I had been with transformation in my job with Siemens for about three decades for a very long time. And we found that there were always some people, whenever you do transformation, they were not interested or they were skeptical. "We are wasting our time." And okay, that was to be expected, but what was surprising that even though Agile came up in a big way and people thought, "Okay. This is a solution to all our miseries," even though there was a focus on culture, culture was still our biggest issue. So it appeared to me that we are not really addressing the problem.
And as Jazmin talk about our goal and our hypothesis, and that was attractive to me that maybe this project will help me to understand why some [inaudible 00:05:12] to get the people on board in some of the Agile transformation.
Thank you. That was awesome. I think it definitely comes through in the report that this is a topic that's near and dear to all of you. And in the report you mentioned, there's a lack of consensus and some misalignment in defining some of these key terms. So thought to frame the conversation today, Jazmin, could you walk us through some of these key definitions, agility, diversity, equity, and inclusion.
That's a great question now, because over the last year, there's been a big boom on different topics related to diversity, equity and inclusion, I mean, especially with the Black Lives Matter movement and many different events that have affected our society in general. And with the rise of social movements, I mean, there's been a lot of talk in the area of diverse, equity and inclusion. And when we talk about agility, equality, equity and inclusion and diversity, I mean, it's very important to have a very clear understanding of what we mean with this terms. Agility is the mindset. I mean, it's really about having the customer, people, at the very center of the organization. So we're talking about agile ways of working. We're talking about more collaborative ways of working. So we can bring the best out of people and then innovate and put products into the market as fast as possible.
Now, when we were thinking about agility and this whole idea of putting people at the very core and customer at the very core of organization so we can respond in a very agile and nimble way to the challenges that our society presents at the moment, we found a lot of commonalities and a lot of similarities with diversity, equity and inclusion. However, when we talk about diversity, equity and inclusion, there's some nuances in the concepts that we need to understand. Diversity really refers to the mix. It refers to numbers, to statistics, all the differences that we have. There's a very long list of types of diversity. Diversity of gender, sexual orientation, ways of our thinking, our socioeconomic status, education and you name it, several types of diversity.
Now, when we talk about equality, I mean, we're talking about applying the same resources and support structures, I mean, for all. However, equality does not actually imply the element of equity, which is so important when we talk about now creating inclusive environments. With equity, we're talking about the element of fair treatment, we're talking about social justice, we're talking about giving equal access to opportunities for all. So it's pretty much about leveling the filed, so all those voices can be part of the conversation and everybody can contribute to the decision making in organizations and in society. So it's that element of fair treatment, it's that element of social justice that the element of equity has to contribute and that we really need to pay attention to.
And inclusion is really about that act of welcoming people in the organization. It's about creating all the conditions so people, everybody, can thrive and everybody can succeed in an organization. So I think it's very important, I mean, to have those definitions very clear to get a better understanding of how they overlap and how there's actually, I mean, a symbiotic relationship between these concepts.
Yeah. Great. And I think just building on that, interaction, collaboration and helping every team member reach their potential is what makes Agile work. So your report discusses that there are lots of overlaps in those values with diversity, equity and inclusion. So I think, Rakesh, what are those key overlaps? It seems those qualities and traits go hand in hand. So how do we embrace them?
So if you see most of the organization which are big organization and being for about two decades or so, and you compare them with the startup organization, so in the traditional setup, normally people are working in their functional silos, so to say. And so the Agile transformation is taken care by one business function. It could be a quality team. It could be a transmission team. And DEI normally is a domain of an HR or people who enter the organization. And the issue is that sometime these initiatives, they are handled separately and the amount of collaboration that's required does not happen, whereas in a startup company, they don't have these kind of divisions.
So looking that as a basis, what we need to look at is that the organization should be sensitize that they work together on some of these projects and look at the underlying what is the commonality, and we can possibly either help each other or complement each other, because one example is, if I can give, it's very easy to justify an Agile transformation relating to a business outcome, okay, but any people related change is a very long-term change. So you cannot relate that to a business outcome in a shorter timeframe. So I call Agile and DEI as symbiotic. An Agile can be helped by a DEI process and DEI itself can be justified by having an Agile project. So they are symbiotic.
Now, what is the common thing between the two? So there are four items. I mean, there are many things which are common, but four things which I find are most important. Yeah? The first thing is respect for people, like Jazmin talked about being inclusive. So respect for people, both Agile and DEI, that's a basis for that. And make people feel welcomed. So no matter what diversity they come from, what background they come from, they're feeling welcome. Yeah? The second part is the work environment. So it's a big challenge to create some kind of a psychological safety. And I think people are now organizing, the management is now understanding that they think that they have provided a safe place, but people are still not feeling safe for whatever reason there. That's one thing.
The other thing is that whatever policies you write, documentation, policies or announcement, the basic things that people see, is it fair and is it transparent? Yeah? So I used to always see that if there are two people given bonus, if one person get 5% more, no matter how big is the amount, there's always felt that, "I have not got my due." Yeah? So be fair and be transparent. And the last one is that you have to invest in people. The organization need to invest in people. The organization need to invest in enabling them with opportunity to make use of new opportunity, and also grow and through learning. So these are four things that I can see, which actually can help both being an agile, and also having inclusive environment in the company.
The report mentions that some of those opportunities to combine agile and diversity equity inclusion are being overlooked. Why do you think this is?
So I think that the reason why they're being overlooked is that, it's basically, educating the leaders. So it's just, if I'm in the agile world, I do not really realize that there are certain people related aspect. I think, if I just make an announcement, people will participate. Okay? So that's the understanding. On the other side, we got an input from quite a few responders saying that some of the DEI projects are basically words, are not really sincere about it. It's a waste of time. "I'm being forced to do certain training. I'm forced." So the sincerity part, sometime there's a lacking, so people have to be educated more at a leadership level and on at a employee level.
I think a really interesting call out in your research is that many agile processes and rituals are built to suit the majority, which excludes team members with diverse attributes. Jazmin, what are some of those rituals?
Yeah, that's a great question. Now, if you think about agile and agile rituals and for example, I mean, daily standups, a lot of those rituals have not actually thought about diversity, or the design for diversity and inclusion. I mean, agile is a very on the spot and is a very, who can talk, type of rituals. But there's a lot of people, I mean, who might need more time to process information before they can provide inputs, so fast. So that requirement of processing information or giving input in a very fast manner, in daily standups, that might be overlooking the fact that a lot of people, with a different type of thought processing styles or preferences may need more time to carry out those processes.
So that would be, I mean, number one; the fact that it's very on the spot and sometimes only the loud voices can be heard. So we might be losing a lot of opportunities, trying to get feedback and input from people with different thinking styles.
Now, also, if you think about organizations in different countries, where English is not the native language of a lot of people, they may also feel a lot of disadvantage. This happens a lot in multinational organizations, where people whose, you know, first language is English, they feel more confident and they're the ones who practically may monopolize now the conversations. So, for people who's first language is not English, I mean, they might feel at a disadvantage.
If you think about older employees who sometimes may not be part of an agile transformation, they might also feel that are not being part of the team and they may not have the sense of belonging, which is so important in an agile transformation and for any organization. Another example, I mean, would be people, who because of their religious belief, I mean, they need maybe to pray five times in a day, and I mean maybe a morning stand up might mean very difficult to adapt to, or even people with disabilities or language differences, they feel a little intimidated by agile. So there's a lot of different examples. And Doug report actually collects several lived experiences, by the respondents that we interview that illustrate how agile has been designed for the majority and for a more dominant type of culture and that highlights the need to redesign many of these rituals and many of these practices.
Yeah, I think just building on that in your recommendations, you mentioned consciously recreating and redesigning these agile ways of working. What are some of the ways we can rethink and consciously create these?
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Well, the good news is that, during our research, and during our field work and the conversations that we had with some organizations mean there's a lot of companies and organizations that have actively implementing them different types of practices, starting from the way they're managing their meetings, their rituals, their stand ups, giving people an opportunity to communicate in different ways. Maybe giving some room for silence, so people can process their information or providing alternative channels for people to communicate and comment either in writing or maybe the next day. So it doesn't have to be right there on the spot., and they don't feel under that type of pressure.
Now, another example would be allowing people, I mean, to also communicate in their native language. I mean, not necessarily using English, I mean, all the time as, I mean, the main language. I think it's also important for people to feel that it can contribute with their own language, and also starting to analyze, I mean, the employee experience. We're talking about maybe using non-binary options in recruitment processes or in payroll. So, I mean, starting to be more inclusive in the different practices and analyzing, I mean, the whole employee journey. I mean, those are some examples that we can start implementing to creating a more inclusive environments. And the one that is the most important for me is encouraging leadership to intentionally design inclusive work environments through the use of, like creating environments that are really where people feel safe, where they have this. Psychologically safe.
The whole section on exploring and challenging existing beliefs is so interesting. And I would definitely encourage everyone listening to go and read it. I could ask you so many questions on this section alone, because I think it was full of gold, and honestly, my copy is highlighted and scribbled and I read it and reread it, there was so much to absorb. The first thing that really stood out to me as a HR practitioner in an agile organization was this belief that focusing on one or two areas of diversity first is a good start. And from your research, what you actually found was that survey respondents found this method ineffective and actually harmful for DEI. And in your research, you also reference how important it is to be intentional and deliberate. So I guess, how do we balance this need for focus and creating change with these findings that being too narrow in our focus can actually be harmful? Might throw this one to you, Rakesh.
So actually, thanks to the reform data report, very interesting, in fact, we presented to quite a few groups. And one of the thing that I observed when we are talking about some of the beliefs and challenges, there were immediate to response say, "Hey, we do experience in our area." So, what we realized is that this whole aspect, as Jazmin talked about, many dimensions. So if you look at inclusiveness, and diversity and equity across organization, there are many streams, and many triggers. As diversity, we understand, okay, in very limited way, it may be gender, or it may be religion or country, but actually, it's much more in a working environment, there are many dynamics which are [inaudible 00:22:15]. So the challenges, what we saw was that if you pick up a project in a very sincere way and say, "I'll solve one problem, okay?" Let me say I solve problem of a region or language, yeah? Now the issue is that most of the time, we look at the most dominant and identify that problem.
So what happens is that you actually create an inequity right there, because there are other people they are suffering. They are, I won't say, "Suffering," but they're influenced by other factors of diversity and they felt, "Okay, nobody's really caring for me." Yeah? So you have to look at in a very holistic picture, and you have to look at in a way that everybody is on board, yeah? So you may not be able to find solution to every specific problem, but getting everybody on board, and let people work in some of the environment or either psychological safety or the policy level, so create an environment where everybody can participate, and issues can be different so they can bring up their own issues, and make sure they feel that they they're cared for. And that's what we actually observed.
And the second belief I thought was really interesting to call out was that this belief that we will adapt to somebody's beliefs if they ask. And your research found that not everyone is able to disclose their needs, no matter how safe the working environment, so that by relying on disclosure is the first step in the process,. Organizations will always be a step behind and, and also place the burden of change on marginalized groups. What are some things we can do, Rakesh, to remove this pressure and to be more proactive?
So there are a couple of things that we need to look at when we talk to people, actually, they discussed about the problem, and they also recommended what could be right, we are doing it. And we also discussed among ourselves. So one thing which was very clear that there was a little doubt about the sincerity of leadership. And so, we felt that any organization where leader was very proactive, like, for example, what is the basic reason, if I have a problem, if I talk about it, I am always worried what will happen when I disclose it? And is it the right issue to talk about it? So, these are the questions would inhibit a lot of people not to talk about it at all. So, that's where the proactive leadership can help people to overcome their inhibition and talk about it, and unless they discuss about it, you'll never know if there's a problem. So, that's the one thing. So, that's the approach.
So there are a couple things that we could also recommend, is proactive leadership to start with, and something which can be done is there are a lot of tools available for the managers, yeah? People leaders, I would call it. Things like coaching, so you have a grow model where you can coach an individual person, even as a manager or as an independent coach, then having a facilitation techniques. When I started my career, they were not a training on facilitation, just going to the room and conduct the meeting. But they're very nice tools, facilitation techniques, which can be brought out to get people to participate, and so things like that can be very useful for being proactive and drawing people out of their inhibition. That definitely is with the leader. That's why we call it servant leadership. It is their job to initiate and take the lead, and get people out of their shell.
It ties quite nicely into the next question I had in mind. You both actually today have mentioned a lot of challenging beliefs, and calling things out. We need to build this awareness, and create safe spaces, and create psychological safety in our teams. What are some examples of how we can create safe spaces for these conversations?
The examples of someone creating safe places is ... I would say that educating people and the leaders. What I have seen is that if the leadership team recognizes that and educates the managers and other people ... You need to actually train people at different level, and create an environment that everybody's participating in the decision making, and they're free to make choices within, of course, the constraint of the business.
The focus, where I would put it, is that there are many educational programs and people would like to educated, because I normally felt that I was never trained for being a good leader. There was never training available. But these days we find that a lot of educational programs highlighting a various issue, like microaggression, unconscious bias, psychological safety. People should understand it. Things like being empathetic. These terminologies are there, but I find that people don't really appreciate it and understand it to the extent that they need to do, even though they are in a leadership position.
Thanks for sharing, Rakesh. I really love what you mentioned around proactive leadership, there. Your research found that 47% of respondents believed organizations who achieved this unity of Agile, and diversity, and equity, and inclusion will reap the benefits and exceed competitors. Jazmin, what did these organizations do differently?
Yes. That's a great question. Actually this ties very nicely with idea of servant leadership, inclusive leadership, and how leaders have this incredible challenge of creating workspaces that are psychologically safe, as Rakesh just mentioned. This is really everybody's responsibility, but it has a lot to do with a very strong leadership.
We found that several other organizations that we interviewed, they had a very strong leadership team, that they were really committed with diversity, equity, and inclusion in their agile transformation, and they were able to put DEI at the very core of the organization. That's number one, having a very strong leadership team that's actually committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and that does not perceive DEI efforts as isolated actions or initiatives.
This is something that we're seeing a lot nowadays. As a DEI coach and consultant, sometimes you see, unfortunately, several organizations that only try very isolated and very ... They don't have long-term strategy. What we have seen that actually works is having this committed leadership team that has been able to put DEI at the very core of their strategy.
Also a team that has been able to serve as an advocate in diversity, equity, and inclusion, and agility, and they're able to have advocates throughout the organization. It's not just one person's job. This calls for the effort of the whole organization and individuals to commit to DEI and be actively part of the agile transformation.
Also, I would say, leaders that embrace mistakes and embrace errors throughout the process. This is something that came up a lot during our conversations with people in different organizations, that in many cultures and in many organizations, mistakes are punished. They're not perceived as a source of opportunity.
One of the tips or best practices would be having leaders who are able to show the rest of their organization that mistakes are actually learning opportunities, that you can try things out of the box, and you can be more innovative. That even if you fail, you're not going to be punished, or there won't be any consequences because of that, and, quite on the country, that this is actually a learning opportunity that we can all thrive on.
Yeah. I completely agree. What benefits did they see?
They definitely saw a greater working environment. This is something that was quoted a lot during our interviews with respondents, that individuals saw that they had the chance to try new and innovative ideas. Definitely greater innovation, more creativity. Business morale actually ultimately went up, because they saw that the organization was actually embracing different perspectives, even if they fail. This definitely called for greater innovation.
I would say innovation, more creativity, and a better working environment. Absolutely new products, new ideas. That if you think about the current circumstances with COVID, this is what organizations have to aim at. New products, more innovation to face all the challenges that we have nowadays.
Powerful things for the listeners to think about. Here at Easy Agile, our mission is to help teams be agile. Because we believe for too long the focus has been on doing, when the reality is that Agile is a constant journey of becoming.
There's a specific part in the report that really stood out to me that I'd like to read. "Agility is a journey with no fixed endpoint. The road towards creating diverse, equitable, and inclusive environments is the same. Agility and DEI can be pursued, but never fully achieved. They are a process of ongoing learning, reflection, and improvement. A team cannot enter the process of improving business agility or DEI with a mindset towards completion, and any model that unites Agile and DEI will ultimately be ineffective if those taking part are not ready to embark on an ongoing quest for self improvement."
I absolutely love this quote. Rakesh, let's explore this a little bit further. What more can you tell me about this?
Actually there's an interesting thing that I would like to share to start with. We wanted to look for a organization who would help us interview their people and talk to their people. The way organizations responded ... Some responded, "Shall I allow my people to talk to somebody? It could be a problem." But then we got other organizations, they were actually chasing us. "We would like to be part of this, and we would like to get our people interviewed." They were very positive about the whole thing.
I happened to talk to the DEI corporate manager, a lady, and the way she was talking was ... She was so much, I would say, passionate about the whole thing, even though at least I felt that they were very high level of awareness of DEI. But the quest for learning and finding out what they could do better was quite astonishing and quite positive.
That's where my answer is, is that ... If you look at the current pandemic, and people realized that, "Okay. We have to work from home," initially some people found it great. It's a great thing. Work-life balance. "I can attend my home." But after some time they found it's a problem. There's other problem.
The point is that, in any organization, where it's a business or a social life, or people, it just keeps changing. There's no method or policy which is going to be forever valid. There's a continuous learning process that we have to get in.
What we need to do is focus on our goal that we want to achieve. Depending on the environment, that's what we call business agility. Now bring it to people as well, because it is a people ... We talk about customer centricity, and all that. But finding it's the people who are going to deliver whatever organization want to. You have to see how their lives are getting impacted.
We are discussing about getting people back to office. The problem is that, a city like Bangalore, it's a very costly city and very clouded city. People have gone to their hometown and they can work from there. Now, to bring them back, you have to approve them back again. To cut short the explanation, our life is changing, constantly changing, and technology and everything is putting ... People have to look at methods and approach of how they can be adapting themself on a continuous basis.
Learning is a continuous process. In fact, when I got into Agile and people ask me, "How many years of experience you have?" I generally say five years, because anything that I did before five years is actually the wrong practice. You have to be continuously learning, and DEI and Agile is no stranger to this situation.
I love that. I think fostering that continuous learning environment is really key. I suppose, on that, a few of the recommendations from the report are centered around getting deeper training and intentional expertise. Jazmin, what further recommendations, or courses, or practitioners are there that people can engage with after this episode?
Sure. An important part of our report was a series of recommendations to the entire agile community, and practitioners, to organizations, and agile coaches. You can see that. You could get more specific information in our reports. I would like to encourage all of you to read. Definitely when it comes to agile coaches and consultants, we're encouraging people to learn more about diversity, equity, and inclusion because one of the insights and the learnings we drew from this research is that diversity, equity, and inclusion is not specifically included in the agile world.
When we talked to the respondents in many different countries, they did not spontaneously made the connection between agility, Agile, and diversity, equity, and inclusion. But the more we talk about it, they discovered that, indeed, they were very closely overlapped. There was a symbiotic relationship between them, because you're putting the person and everything that relates to that individual on the very core of the organization, on the transformation.
Definitely we do encourage ... Leaders and agile coaches need to start learning more about our DEI, building that proficiency, learning more about unconscious bias and the impact of unconscious bias, and discrimination, and racism that we'll continue to see in organizations. They're more mindful of those voices that are not being heard at the moment in the present conversations. They can learn different techniques or different methods to be more engaging and more inclusive.
When it comes to the agile community in general and influencers, it is important to mention that Evan Leybourn, the founder of the Agility Institute, is having at the moment some conversations with important institutions in the agile community, such as the Agile Alliance, because we are looking for ... That's what Gen Z-ers are looking for. There's a big call out there for organizations to embrace this type of transformation, but putting DEI at the very core of the organization. That's what I would like to say.
Contribute to the discussion. This is a pilot project. That we are hoping to conduct more research on other DEI areas related to agility. We would like listeners to be part of the conversation, and to contribute with their experience, to improve the state of agility in the current moment.
Thank you both so much for joining us today. Thoroughly enjoyed our conversation. I can't wait to see how Agile and diversity, and equity, and inclusion evolves in the future. Thank you.
Thank you so much for having us. It's been a pleasure.
Thanks a lot to both of you. It was nice to share our experience. Thank you very much.