Fostering Inclusion in Tech: Simple Policy Changes

Part five of our series provides tips for providing a welcoming and comfortable work environment for everyone that don't require a major overhaul to current practices.

Part of improving inclusion practices in an organization is finding small, simple ways that can have a big impact. The tips below range from simple policy changes to improved clarity of communication, the latter being something to strive for regardless of the type of work you are doing.

Part five of our series provides tips that don’t attempt an overhaul. These changes do not demand a major cultural shift. They have the potential, however, to help provide a welcoming and comfortable work environment for everyone.

Rely less on alcohol

It’s frustrating to a sober, underage, or non-drinker for personal, health, religious, or other purposes, to have to attend an alcohol-focused event like a “Beer and Pitches” or “Networking Cocktail Hour.” Offer alternatives and remove the focus on alcohol consumption for employee meetings, gatherings, or retreats.

Reduce dress restrictions

Allowances may be made for different hair, nails, makeup, tattoo, piercing, dress, head covering, and other physical appearances. Consider removing any requirements on dress or appearance, unless absolutely necessary, or publish guidelines for appropriate presentation. For example, a company could write client-facing guidelines into a dress code to explicitly explain desired business attire,  e.g. “for staff members giving a client presentation, please wear pants, trousers, or skirts past the knee, and no tennis shoes or trainers.”

Allow for different styles of grooming

In July 2019, California passed SB188 (full text of the bill), also known as The Crown Act: Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair, to protect from discrimination for hairstyles. Beards, hair, hair coverings, and personal grooming habits differ. Consider making policy to allow for varied styles, in order to successfully run the business while also respecting personal preferences. 

Dress codes in the workplace include professional, business casual, and casual as norms. Note the team’s public- and client-facing requirements and determine policies accordingly. For example, a food establishment might require hairnets for safe food handling procedures. However, success in working for a web development agency like Lullabot is not determined by hairstyle.

Provide variety in food and drinks

For the shared kitchen, offer vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, dairy-free, kosher/pareve, and halal options. Not everyone drinks coffee and tea: include seltzer waters, fruit juices, vegetable juices, and other alternatives. Offer a sign-up list when going for a supply run so people may pick and choose their personal preferences, be it gummy bears, chocolate, popcorn, or nori.

Consider offering more options in general, and refrain from making assumptions: simply ask because one person’s favorite choices are not everyone’s favorite choices. 

Use preferred names

Focus on calling people by their desired name. Refrain from shortening a “difficult” or “unfamiliar” name, and respect the person’s desired method of address. Make an effort to pronounce names correctly: ask people what they would like to be called and abide by that, including correct spelling in written communications.

Be upfront about healthcare

Be proactive about increasing communication and demand around the company’s healthcare offerings, if any, for all kinds of care including mental health, trans health, women’s care, coverage for partners, and other policies. 

Employees and potential hires are reviewing this information in order to decide if the company continues to be a good fit for their individual or family needs. By being proactive with these options, the company becomes more competitive.

Publish leave policies

Publish parental, flex, bereavement, and paid and unpaid leave policy and take a look at the message the company is sending by its current leave policies. Candidates benefit from knowing this information up-front, and the organization will attract the best by offering the best. Unlimited vacation, an emerging marketing tool and employee benefit for top-tier tech companies, has mixed results. Lullabot offers eight paid holidays (depending on the employee’s country of residence). For the first two years, employees receive 15 days of Paid Time Off (PTO), and after two years, they receive 20 days. Once employees celebrate seven years, they get 25 days of PTO, and at ten years, employees have the opportunity to take a 30-day paid sabbatical.

Offer flex time

People’s schedules, time zones, and effective hours differ. Offer ways for people to participate remotely on conference calls and demos, allow staff to set their own schedules when possible, and offer them certain hours that are theirs to control. Many people’s lives and work are interconnected and work, especially distributed work, benefits when people create the space and time to focus effectively.

Pay for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work

When possible, invest in the time and energy needed to do DEI work well. For example, several Lullabots give back to the community by participating in the Drupal Diversity and Inclusion group. They do this as part of their 10 hours/week of paid time, which is time they can use at their discretion for personal development, continuing education, and community involvement. Allowing the team to continue learning, growing, and sharing knowledge can help foster a more culturally-competent, communicative, and empathetic workforce.

Summary and Additional Links

These are just a few of the tips we’ve found in our ongoing work. If you’d like to learn more, here are some additional resources. 

Thanks to James Sansbury, Marc Drummond, and Andrew Berry for acting as reviewers and for their thoughtful comments and feedback on these suggested tips.

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