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IWD 2023: How to build a more diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace culture

Diversity, equity and inclusion has been talked about so much that its acronym, 'DEI' has become a permanent topic in boardroom conversations. Having different gender identities, cultures and ethnic practices at play gives birth to new perspectives that challenge thought processes in the workplace and lead to breakthroughs.

As a woman in a leadership position, I have always believed in embedding strong DEI practices in company culture. More than just practices or initiatives, diversity has a direct impact on a company's ability to innovate and grow. Be it the way we interact with our colleagues or making use of our unique life experiences, having people from all walks of life helps to break out of groupthink. This is key for business development, especially in a traditionally male-dominated industry such as technology.

At Confluent, we recognise that the creativity, passion and purpose from our diverse pool of employees is essential as we pioneer a new category of data infrastructure with data streaming.

To successfully build a diverse workforce, leaders should take charge in setting the right tone and foundation. A top-down approach can shape a purpose-filled workplace culture, creating a conducive environment for employees to flourish and the company to thrive.

Recognising biases stemmed from personal experiences that affect workplace culture

A common issue I have seen perpetuated in the culture of an organisation is the entrenchment of unconscious biases. Such biases often stem from the varying environments each individual grew up in, the type of media consumed or even through daily conversations that influence worldviews. This can be difficult to identify at best, much less change.

Whether we realise it or not, our personal experience shapes how we interact and collaborate in teams. As a starting point, it is critical to acknowledge that such biases could cause negative consequences on company culture, breed resentment, or even lead to stagnation in innovation. Leaders must identify such pitfalls and approach them with both head and heart to break down barriers and prevent detrimental effects in the long run.

One effective way of removing bias is through encouraging open conversations. At Confluent, we sponsor a growing number of employee resource groups, allowing employees from underrepresented groups and their allies to connect, engage and foster understanding. This includes our Women Inclusion Network, which serves to amplify the leadership and impact of women at Confluent through community, allyship, and development. In addition, leaders sharing personal experiences can motivate others to do the same. By highlighting challenges faced as a woman in the technology industry, I am able to form genuine connections and encourage deeper acceptance for inclusion within my team.

Every proactive action adds up to generate a larger impact, shifting employee perception and culture towards one where individuals appreciate the benefits that diversity has to offer. Reshaping ways of working, thinking, and even hiring will progress towards more equitable opportunities and practices.

Balancing purpose and pace

The technology industry operates at an extremely fast pace, especially when the talk of the town is about boosting operational efficiency or leveraging data in real-time. More often than not, companies hire the first person that can effectively get the job done. Yet this might not provide the best long-term solution for an organisation.

As the emphasis on DEI practices grows, hiring practices must reflect the same. It is important to consider potential from different racial, gender and cultural backgrounds as much as possible. Although the short-term fix of a quick hire might be tempting, the long-term returns of investing in a diversified workplace brings much more to the table. Be it recruitment, promotion, performance management or idea generation, having people from different backgrounds with contrasting trains of lateral thought will add value to how a company operates, tackles challenges, and advances.

In line with these efforts, we continue to maintain a diverse recruiting panel to build an equally diverse and dynamic pipeline of qualified candidates at Confluent. Women in leadership has been one of Confluent's hallmarks since its inception, with Neha Narkhede as one of our co-founders. In fact, around 36% of our executive staff are also women. This helps us foster a more objective hiring process and enables us to build holistic and well-rounded teams.

As a company becomes purpose-filled, diversity serves a key role by adding flavour and creative nuance. Preventing the formation of a cookie-cutter team enables the contribution of different ideas that will further spur innovation.

Persisting on the road to diversity and equity

The technology industry has definitely made huge leaps in DEI since I stepped into my first role 20+ years ago. But I believe that there is more to be done.

Having a vision that brings diversity to life starts from the top but definitely does not end there. Leaders must be the ones to instil its significance and take that first step in actively listening to our people by genuinely hearing what they have to say and how they can contribute. By doing so, we can foster closer relationships with our people, mentor them and ensure they are comfortable with voicing their viewpoints and recognise the importance of diversity and equity.

Establishing an inclusive workplace that embraces the uniqueness of every individual will build a company culture that advocates for distinct ways of thinking. With the power of diversity-driven contributions, organisations can take a more strategic, innovative and precise approach in overcoming challenges and achieving success.

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