Exploring Diversity and Inclusion

4 minute read

Exploring D&I

Here in Zalando, diversity and inclusion is more than a strategic endeavour, it is a long-term promise to build the best company that we can be. We are committed to embracing and nurturing a more diverse culture, both internally (our leadership and our employees) and externally (our talent and our customers).
We recently published our first annual diversity and inclusion report with detailed insights into the progress that we have already made, and our next steps on the journey.


So why is diversity and inclusion such an important subject?

From a business standpoint, diversity and inclusion improves performance, boosts productivity, and increases retention. Moreover, it fosters innovation, helping to provide a competitive advantage by nurturing team environments that leverage a more diverse pool of backgrounds, experiences, perspectives, and ideas. As a leader, this excites me.

For employees, diversity and inclusion ensures that you will be provided with the same opportunities as your peers, that you will work within an ecosystem that will help you to be the best that you can be, and that you will be assessed without bias or prejudice. As a person, this excites me.

As agile software engineers, we are more than comfortable decomposing the vision into small, iterative deliverables that can provide value, and, as with all great projects, we need to start somewhere. What we decided to do in our engineering book club was to start out by exploring equality. The first step towards change is awareness.

To add some colour and context, let me borrow a phrase from Inclusive Leadership, which states that

Equality is being invited into the room.
Diversity is getting a seat at the table.
Inclusion is sharing your views and being heard.
An Inclusive Leader enables all of this to happen.

This is an incredibly powerful statement that vividly articulates the happy path, but what happens when you can’t enter the room because it is too cold, and you can’t sit at the table because the seat was not designed for you? These are the scenarios that our first book delved into.

Data Bias

Invisible Women : Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, was the first book that we collectively opted to read a number of months ago. As I mentioned above, this subject is actively embedded into our culture, and is shaping the Zalando of the future, so this was a natural book to begin with.

The book shines a spotlight onto the hidden cracks that women are falling into each day. Often forgotten, in a world designed by, and for, men.

Thermostat Wars! I can assume with some amount of confidence that most of us have worked in an office where there were constant clashes over the temperature. I can remember numerous occasions of working in a t-shirt whilst one of my female colleagues was wrapped in a scarf or blanket.
Do I run hot, does she run cold? Well, actually, yes, we run differently (excuse the phrase).
The formula to determine the ideal office temperature was designed around the metabolic resting rate of a 70kg, 40 year old man. Women, on the other hand, have a slower metabolism, which means that the typical office temperature is five degrees too cold for a woman.
Not an ideal environment to work comfortably.

Office temperature aside, let’s go one step back to the office commute. If you are a woman, and you drive to the office, if you are unfortunate enough to be involved in an accident, then you have a 50% higher risk of being seriously injured. Why, you might ask?
It boils down to the fact that car manufacturers are designing safety mechanisms around the dimensions and physics of the male anatomy.
Car safety mechanisms aren’t the only thing built around us men,… smartphones and tools are designed for our typically larger hands, making them less usable and more uncomfortable for women. Voice recognition is usually designed and tested on male voices, leading to a poorer service and diminished user experience.

Throughout the book, the author presents data driven evidence and research into the gender bias that occurs every day. A lot of such biases are unconscious, or based on evidence and data that is skewed towards men, e.g the volume of studies on the effects of heart attacks on men’s bodies can lead to misinterpretation of female symptoms . A nice element of the book is that each of these studies and data points are referenced at the end (well, I say the end, but really it’s actually the final third of the book).

The content itself was eye opening, although the tone may not be to everyone’s liking. Nonetheless, glean the facts and you will instantly broaden your understanding.

Additional Resources

Stepping back from the book, and looking more holistically at D&I, I have had a number of opportunities in the past year here in Zalando to improve my understanding and awareness of the topic.

  • Diversity workshops helped to illustrate the benefits of building a diverse workforce.
  • UnBias (Unconscious Bias) training helped me to highlight any blind-spots by understanding how the brain processes information, and how that shortcut-processing can lead to unconscious bias.
  • Internal guilds and groups have helped to promote and share resources for betterment.
  • Company wide feedback surveys help us to understand how we are doing and to keep a finger on the culture and engagement pulse.

For those of you who feel like they (and their companies) could be doing more in this space, then the Inclusive Leadership book is a good resource for building a diversity and inclusion strategy from the ground up. It describes the benefits, the challenges, suggested building blocks, and what to expect.
Additionally, Google’s ReWork is always a treasure trove of insights. I would highly recommend checking out their section on Unbiasing.