Building Diverse, Inclusive Communities and Teams
by Nicole Huesman, Community & Developer Advocate
As we work to close the representation gap that exists for females and underrepresented minorities in the tech industry, we must focus on both diverse hiring and building an inclusive community where people feel welcome and empowered to contribute.
Five years ago, women in Intel’s Open Source Technology Center (OTC) formed the Women of OTC to build a nurturing community and support each other as they contributed to Intel—and to the larger open source world. We spoke with a few of the past and present leaders of this group—Hirally Santiago Rodriguez, Kelly Hammond and Amy Occhialino—about why grassroots groups like this are important to supporting women in their careers and essential in ensuring diverse, inclusive organizations.
Q: What was the genesis for the Women of OTC (WOTC) group?
Hirally: When I first joined OTC, there were very few women, and we all knew each other. About five years ago, the organization began hiring more females and one of our colleagues, Erika Howerton, thought it’d be great for us to get together, share experiences and support each other. This was especially important because the open source community is sometimes rough on females.
Q: How has the group grown and evolved over time?
Hirally: The group started informally with casual, off-site lunches and happy hours. From there, we decided we wanted to do more, so we solicited input to determine what everyone would like to see. We found that people, while interested in the social aspect, also wanted to incorporate educational opportunities. In response, every other month we hosted a happy hour, and every other month we scheduled a lunch topic, enlisting folks across Intel to speak about various topics—finance, career management, marketing, program management.
Kelly: We’ve continued the yearly process of feedback through surveys and networking flash feedback events, and have changed things, added things, bit by bit to try to address what people want. Some of the ‘brown bags’ and technical talks are a result of that.
Amy: One of the things that came out of an anonymous survey of members this past spring was that people wanted an opportunity to talk at a ‘brown bag’—not to bring in a VP to talk, but to talk themselves. As a result, we’ve been successful in pulling in different females to talk about technical topics, or topics they feel passionate about. This gives those in the group an opportunity to practice their speaking skills, which is a very nice way of growing the community. In addition to talks, we now host two major events a year. At least one of these events is focused on highlighting our male allies at Intel. We also typically throw an end-of-year celebration, which this year will focus on reflection and career growth planning.
Q: How has the culture of the group contributed to its success?
Amy: The group emerged informally, and over time, it has retained its open source culture of being loose, less formalized. We can articulate our goals, but we don’t print or publish mission statements or stated objectives. Every idea is a great idea. Anyone can contribute. I love that concept—it feels very wholesome and inclusive. Everyone involved is involved because they really believe in the women of OTC, and in building a strong community.
Q: How is this group different from the larger, company-wide Women of Intel group?
Amy: When I started at Intel 20 years ago, groups like the WOTC didn’t exist. The Women of Intel group existed, but was programmatic. There was no grassroots group—or infrastructure for grassroots groups—through which to build relationships and connections to help each other out. As a 20-year-old, I would’ve loved to have a 40-year-old give me some vocabulary to be able to voice confidently that I am a minority. That is a difficult thing—I couldn’t have done it when I was 20, and it’s still difficult even at age 40.
Hirally: A big Women of Intel network is great if you’re an extrovert. If I’m an extrovert, I say “Great, I went to this conference, I like the chit chat, I get a lot of contacts.” If I’m an introvert, then I’m here and I don’t know how to move around because nobody has taught me, and I don’t get anything out of it. But a small group that is in your business unit, that you can actually develop and grow in, it gives you the wings to go out and engage with people from your business unit and across the company.
Q: Why do you need a separate group for women?
Kelly: I’ve thought about this one a lot. You don’t get to equality by saying, there are no problems. By saying, we’re just going to pretend that there’s not an issue and that equality is just going to happen by itself. The reason you need these forums, these groups, these things, is because you have a problem. And in many places it’s gotten worse, not better. In the 1980s, you actually had more females as software engineers than you do currently from a percentage standpoint. So, bias is a real problem. I would love to get to the point where we don’t need it.
Amy: If you think this type of change happened easily, it would’ve changed in 20 years. If you think it’s organically going to change as more girls go into school and you have stronger women, it’s not going to change organically—it’s just not.
Hirally: It comes down to human nature. You want to have a peer group, a space where you can feel safe, a space where people understand you. You want a community. Aside from women’s groups, there are many other peer groups that form because you naturally navigate to comfortable spaces where you can engage and interact. As a Latina, I’m part of a Latino group, but this doesn’t mean that I only hang out with my Latino friends—I have a wide variety of folks I interact with. It doesn’t mean we’re trying to be exclusive.
Q: What inspires you about being a part of this group?
Kelly: I believe in nothing more than pay it forward. When you have a career where you are supported and can continually grow your skills, and you have opportunity, there are definitely places where people just make it. The challenge for women is, more often than not, that’s not the case. In environments where you need to deal with navigating many, frequent changes—changes in job scope, managers, projects and technical areas—networks become all the more critical.
Hirally: I don’t think that people just make it. Everybody has their own network, everybody has made their own connections. We don’t come into this world and simply make it on our own—things don’t just happen. And being a woman, being a minority, makes it just a little bit more difficult. Especially as you move up, your network is really, really important. I made advances earlier in my career based on my skills and experience, but at a certain point, it becomes more about strategizing correctly, connecting with the right people, and knowing what you really want to do. Because I don’t want things just happening to me, I actually want to select what I want to do next.
Amy: I believe in the ‘pay it forward’ philosophy. The more successful you become, the more you should spend time teaching other women how you’ve accomplished what you’ve done. If you can teach other women, if you can give them even a nugget of information about what you did to succeed, then you can help them. You never know who it’s going to resonate with. It’s not easy—none of us is just riding along. As we go along in life, we get married, we have children, our parents get older, and we never know what’s going to happen. My life is a lot more complicated than when I was 20, and I’m a lot more successful professionally than when I was 20. So think of how much more I’m doing, and how you navigate that without working 1,000 hours and without killing yourself.
Q: What has been the biggest value of WOTC?
Hirally: The real value has been that we got to know each other and to build relationships across OTC, regardless of the open source projects we worked on, so that we could support each other. Our support of each other—that is one of the best things that has come out of WOTC.
Amy: That’s the beauty of these things. When you’re a minority, it’s so nice to have a network that you feel you can rely on, be vulnerable with, use as trusted advisors. You never know when you’re going to be in a situation where you need this support; I really don’t believe you can forecast that. And even though Hirally has moved to another business unit within Intel, I still feel like she’s a trusted advisor because we’ve forged a relationship.
Q: What were some of the accomplishments along the way in growing this community?
Amy: When we asked the group to tell us if they’d like to talk, we put no boundaries on it, we didn’t specify topics. We said, “If you have something you want to talk about, and you want to practice your skills, get feedback, or just present, go for it.” We received a great response and a bunch of volunteers. That’s when we really realized we’d created a safe community. Speaking isn’t easy for everyone. Until you begin to practice your speaking skills and your confidence skills, it’s not easy. And you’ll keep avoiding the opportunities because you don’t get a chance to practice. Within this community, members can be vulnerable with their peers to get some really good feedback from trusted advisors.
Kelly: I want to build on that piece about vulnerability. We held a Command Presence workshop with a few senior executives, and we received positive feedback from the group. It’s a challenging class where you have three minutes to present in front of VPs, Fellows and other high-level executives who are throwing questions at you, and you have opportunity to respond and get direct feedback. Participants felt like, because they were in a group with their peers among other women, they were less afraid of failure. You’re going to experience failure, and you’re going to move on and move past it, and the biggest thing was knowing they could deal with scary situations. People really voiced how much they valued being able to go through this with a group of their peers. Within the community we’ve built, you can go and do more, you can be vulnerable, and that’s how the women within this community grow. It’s a safe environment to grow in.
Q: What impact do groups like WOTC have on hiring and retention?
Amy: Hiring diverse candidates is great, but when you look at women who are 10 or 15 years into their career, what retains them in a company like Intel—especially when the economy in general, and the tech industry specifically, is booming—is ultimately the community. When you’re looking at all the things that could make you leave a company, the community is a deciding factor.
Q: You mentioned incorporating the role of male allies into WOTC activities. Can you tell us more about this?
Kelly: I had a discussion with one of my guy friends yesterday about bias—where it shows up and where it doesn’t. He was saying, he didn’t feel like he could propose a solution because it’d be presumptuous for a guy to propose a solution for a girl. I pointed out that people in power are the ones who must enact change. Hopefully it’s not just coming up with something themselves, it’s empowering the minorities, taking feedback on what that change needs to be, and enacting it. I think the biggest part is, if you’re going to change things, you need to engage with the people who are providing the opportunities, who are leading. So, we established a nomination process where we recognize the men who are positively impacting the careers of the women of OTC. So far, we’ve received a lot of positive feedback. People feel honored that they are called out as allies, and we want them to do more of it. During the first event we held to recognize them, we made pamphlets available from research around male allies, so we could educate people about the meaning, or definition, of a male ally. Our effort around male allies was really about educating people on what allies are, and trying to encourage them to be allies. I wear the IGLOBE allies pendant, and I see the concept of being an ally starting to gain traction.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Amy: I think it’s so important to look at opportunities that come your way, and to try new things. Don’t think you’ve defined yourself by one instance in time—you can continually reinvent yourself. If you give a poor presentation, don’t think, well, I won’t present. Learn what, in that instance, made you uncomfortable, and learn from that. I recruited a friend of mine to present at a particular event that I couldn’t attend, and I was surprised by her reaction. She voiced her disappointment that I wasn’t going to be there because I was the one person she really wanted feedback from. I thought I was doing a great service of recruiting her to be there, and she was looking at the event as an opportunity to get feedback from me. And that was really a testament to being a trusted advisor. That was a great compliment. Earlier, I wouldn’t have thought of that as being in my wheelhouse.
Kelly: You can get good at things that you never thought you’d be good at, like speaking for an audience. I was interviewed for the first podcast episode of the Open Source Voices series, along with Michael Larabel, and when I listened to the episode, I didn’t hate my voice. I actually liked the things I said and the way I said them… it was a first for me!