Amid the Coronavirus-induced working from home regime, I connected with Microsoft’s Chief Diversity Officer Lindsay-Rae McIntyre to talk about diversity and inclusion (D&I) at Microsoft. We started from the announcement earlier that day that Microsoft is going to continue to pay all their vendor hourly service providers their regular pay during the period of reduced service needs due to the working from home policy. I point out to McIntyre how, as I read the blog post, I immediately thought of it as an example of what a company does to ensure inclusion. We often think of inclusion as gender and race, but of course, an inclusive workplace considers age, sexual preference, religious beliefs, and socio-economic differences as well. While I might have been somewhat surprised by my realization, McIntyre thought the leadership decision aligned perfectly within the Microsoft D&I culture: “Microsoft has one of the most inclusive missions that to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. That creates an invitation for us, from a D&I standpoint, to always be thinking about the seven billion people on the planet and how we, inside Microsoft, reflect the communities where we live and work. But also to make sure that we are constantly inviting different perspectives and that’s both the employee experience as well as the broader ecosystem experience,” she says, smiling through her computer’s camera.
Organizations decide to embrace D&I in different ways. Some make it part of Human Resources and some make it a standalone team with a leader directly reporting into the CEO. These differences in approach might be reflected in the skills and background organizations seek out in their leader. There is no right or wrong, but I always worry about how many employees tend to look at HR as taking the company side rather than the employee side and how that feeling might impact trust. McIntyre helps me understand that having D&I rooted into HR allows it to be embedded throughout the employees experience from hiring to connecting them to employee resource groups, like onboarding buddies, but also by creating priorities attached to the performance management system so that everybody at Microsoft has the responsibility to own diversity and inclusion. “At Microsoft we want everybody to have an experience that allows them to be their whole selves. That they have management teams that walk the talk by being accountable while having peer to peer conversations that allow us to learn and grow and understand diversity and inclusion in new and different ways because this space is always changing,” this is how we built trust says McIntyre.
D&I is always changing, especially for an organization as broad as Microsoft, with a presence in 190 countries all of which see D&I in slightly different ways because of their unique history, their social construct and beliefs. One of the foundational learnings McIntyre is grateful for is having a manager, very early in her career, help her appreciate the importance of understanding diversity within diversity: “Understanding that the experience that I was having as a white woman was not the experience of all women. This has really challenged me every day since to deepen my empathy, not only for the diversity landscape for women, but also for the diversity landscape more broadly. We should constantly be thinking about how we can be allies, even for one another within the women’s community, something that sometimes we see as the responsibility of a man and that’s just not the case.”
Allyship is core to Microsoft’s D&I efforts. In July 2019, the company launched an employee learning program based on a customized allyship model to help each employee become responsible for creating a diverse and inclusive environment. Over 14,000 employees have participated in the initiative since. McIntyre talks about allyship as a great way to put to work the growth mindset that everybody at Microsoft is very familiar with. Allyship allows everybody to learn and grow and show up for one another, including recognizing that each one of us has a little bit of privilege. The concept of privilege has come up often in my conversations with D&I leaders and they all agree that the more we are aware of our privilege, the better we can understand how we can advocate for one another in a way that the other person would find helpful.
“Allyship isn’t a certification or a badge at Microsoft, it’s really a practice because the other thing we know about growth mindset, which also applies to allyship, is that sometimes we’re going to fail,” says McIntyre. Microsoft‘s allyship initiative stems from the idea that you could be an ally to one, an ally to some or an ally to all and everybody is learning and when someone gets it wrong, there is a shared language and shared understanding to engage in an accountable way to teach one another how to do it better.
For McIntyre, it is clear that allyship at Microsoft offers an opportunity to not only move the organization forward in D&I, but to move individuals along their own diversity and inclusion journey.
Listening And Being Accountable
If there was a list of superpowers companies might have, I feel storytelling would be Microsoft’s superpower. Whether it is CEO Satya Nadella sharing how he wants Microsoft to empower every person and organization on the planet, Brad Smith talking about AI ethics, or Panos Panay describing the flow between a user and their Surface, it is clear that storytelling is embedded in Microsoft’s culture.
So, it is not a surprise when McIntyre points out how grateful she is for courageous employees who have been willing to share their stories, making themselves vulnerable and, in doing so, allowing management to do better. She is referring to a difficult moment for Microsoft in the Spring of 2019 when several women shared their stories of sexual harassment and discrimination.
Storytelling is only impactful when people listen. McIntyre tells me that, since last Spring, “we created spaces for employees to be heard and we’ve done a ton of listening, both in small groups as well as large groups looking at our sentiment analysis so that we become more sophisticated in how we listen.”
And just like that, we have come full circle to trust and how to build it. McIntyre does not beat around the bush by listing accountability in leadership and management as the foundation of trust quickly followed by peer to peer accountability. Such accountability cannot be limited to D&I, of course, but extends to the core values the company has. This makes it clear to each employee what is expected of them as well as what they can count on from one another. From a leadership accountably perspective several steps have been taken since last Spring such as growing investments to accelerate the growth of the advocacy team, as well as the investigation teams while making sure to put in place a more empathetic process when investigations are required and most importantly increase the data transparency.
“D&I is not a place for competition,” says McIntyre adding that she feels camaraderie across the other diversity leaders in tech as well as outside of tech. Many challenges remain and it will take time to address them all. Still, the pressure is undoubtedly on because when it comes to diversity and inclusion, the next generations of employees will not see it as a program or an initiative in the way Gen Xers might have seen it. Millennials and Gen Zers expect to work in a company where diversity is appreciated and inclusion is fostered.
“Every single employee who’s joining Microsoft is joining for a purpose on purpose,” says McIntyre, “and every single person who is joining Microsoft has such talent and such opportunity to help us grow our culture further, to grow our products, to innovate. We strongly believe that those differences are what makes the innovation bar higher every single day. And that isn’t always easy! We know that with differences comes the need for us to learn how to connect with one another differently and talk to one another and pause and listen to one another differently, but it is those skills and habits that will ultimately allow us to do what it is that we’ve committed to do, which is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.”
Disclosure: The Heart of Tech is a research and consultancy firm that engages or has engaged in research, analysis, and advisory services with many technology companies, including those mentioned in this column. The author does not hold any equity positions with any company mentioned in this column