How Our Diversity Dialogues Conference Made Us Rethink Innovation

Sponsored by Nutanix

Photo courtesy of Nutanix.

Photo courtesy of Nutanix.

Thando Kunene, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Program Manager at Nutanix
Thando Kunene, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Program Manager at Nutanix
April 23, 2024 at 4:43PM UTC

“Our ability to innovate and embody excellence in all that we do is fueled by our diverse workforce. Our product is built on the backbone of the unique perspectives that our employees bring to this work. When we prioritize diversity we better meet the needs of the businesses and communities we serve.” - Rajiv Ramaswami, CEO, Nutanix

Nutanix recently hosted the first Diversity Dialogues conference for our global employees. In partnership with our employee-led Leadership, Inclusion, Friends, and Experiences (L.I.F.E) groups and People Team partners, we brought our international audience together with industry experts to discuss the importance of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB). Featuring more than 60 speakers, our virtual program garnered over 1,500 views from employees who tuned in virtually.

Attendees around the world engaged with speakers and panelists including Nutanix employees and industry DEIB thought leaders to discuss creating inclusive workplaces. Here are a few key learnings from the topical discussions that inspired us.

Bias has a Negative Effect on Innovation

 

Photo of Alicia Menendez, MSNBC Host & Author of The Likeability Trap

As a Latina woman, Alicia Menendez recognized that across cultures, women are socialized to think of themselves in relation to others. 

“A piece of that can be a superpower. That we should think about the way that our words and our actions make people feel and influence others. I think where it becomes really challenging is when we are so occupied by whether or not other people like us that it begins to dictate our actions.” - Alicia Menendez, MSNBC Host & Author of The Likeability Trap

During the virtual fireside chat, Alicia Menendez and Shyam Desirazu, Head of Engineering at Nutanix, discussed the dangers of likeability and affinity bias, how it constrains innovation, and its specific impact on underrepresented groups within the technology industry.

The assumption that women are communal, warm, and nurturing can be limiting in the corporate world as it runs contrary to our expected frameworks around leadership. Many people imagine leaders to be assertive, aggressive, and someone who can advocate for themselves and their teams. The problem is, when women do that, they violate the expectations we have of women. This extends to other biases like race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and religion. All of those play a role in the way we imagine how people should show up in the world and specifically in the workplace. Expanding our perceptions of what leadership should include by being more diverse in perspectives and styles makes it possible for everyone to lead in their own way

“We should open up what leadership looks like. Leadership doesn’t have to be assertive, aggressive, and demanding exclusively, there can be other ways to lead and bring people in.” - Alicia Menendez

Although Nutanix may also face these challenges, the core values that drive our culture help to set the tone for authentic leadership and humility. Take Kathy Chou, Senior Vice President of SaaS Engineering at Nutanix, for example. Kathy attributes her authentic and supportive leadership style to her past cultural experiences and having the support to do so, as expressed in her featured Life at Nutanix blog.

Innovation is all about clarity. Being clear on our goals and willing to take risks by not doing what’s always been done, not leading teams the way they’ve always been led, not building teams the way they’ve always been built, and being more expansive and inclusive when recruiting members for our teams. Doing this not only innovates leadership but also reimagines what authentically showing up to work looks like, becoming more focused on outcomes of substance rather than style. 

It’s Time to Redefine Recruiting and Retention

Innovation doesn’t just stop at leadership. We can reimagine how we recruit and retain our diverse teams. In our “Recruiting and Retaining Diverse Teams to Promote Innovation” roundtable, a panel of Nutanix leaders and industry DEIB leaders shared best practices for recruiting and developing diverse teams and supporting underrepresented talent. 

This session’s panel (from upper left to lower right) included Chris Banes (he/him), VP of Americas Systems Engineering at Nutanix; Prabitha Ganesh (she/her), Director of Engineering at Nutanix; Patricia Bogoevici (she/her), Sr. Director Worldwide Systems Engineering at Nutanix; Ashley Jordan (she/her), Vice President of Operations & Strategy at Re: Work and Tech Sales Pipeline for Untapped Talent; Lazarus Letcher (they/them), Strategic Communications Manager at Bocoup Inclusive Tech and LGBTQIA+ tech advocate; and Brenna Schnaare (she/her), Talent Acquisition leader at Nutanix.

Photo of Session Presenters.

Start by recognizing that it is not on the untapped communities to solve how to create sufficient representation for an organization. It is our responsibility to seek and recruit these overlooked diverse talent communities. Checking privileges and recognizing who the outliers may be helps to identify and eliminate hiring practices that may prevent these communities from applying.

“Coming from a Black-owned and led nonprofit, I wouldn’t describe myself as a minority. However, I would describe myself as someone who came from a community brimming with potential that is going untapped and overlooked.” - Ashley Jordan, Vice President of Operations & Strategy, Re:Work, Tech Sales Pipeline for Untapped Talent

Although bias can’t be removed 100%, safeguards can be created to reduce unconscious bias in the hiring process. One of these safeguards is hiring by competency. This entails figuring out which skills are actually needed to do a job successfully and building an interview process that will help identify those skills in a candidate. For example, translating our tech buzzwords into real-world transferable skills can be more inclusive to those with unique perspectives and career backgrounds. This approach can help build job descriptions that don’t alienate untapped talent groups. On top of that, supporting hiring teams and interviewers with standard tools and techniques can ensure more consistency in the hiring process, helping everyone achieve their goal.

What happens next? Once top talent is recruited, it’s time to deliver on the most important step in unlocking the value of a diverse workforce — belonging. It is essential to provide employees with a safe space to feel comfortable showing up as their authentic selves. For example, efforts led by Nutanix’s employee L.I.F.E. Groups have initiated positive changes within Nutanix, like gender-neutral bathrooms in our offices and using pronouns in signatures, Zoom, and messaging channels. Additionally, coaching, mentoring, and carving out opportunities for employees' voices to be heard and supported can make an even greater impact.

“It is important that I know every individual on my team as a person. I make sure every voice is heard and let them get used to owning their own voice. Providing that comfort makes it more pleasant to speak up.” - Prabitha Ganesh, Director of Engineering at Nutanix

We can all agree that talent is colorless, genderless, ageless, and doesn’t fall into a certain class. As a result, the practices discussed will not only build a more effective team but inadvertently a more diverse team. By being clear on goals and willing to take risks in the approach, we can continue innovating how we build and retain teams. 

Utilizing Design Thinking Principles to Foster Belonging

 

Photo of Dr. Susie Wise (she/her), Adjunct Professor at Stanford and Author of Design for Belonging

Belonging is a feeling. Everyone experiences it differently. However, without a sense of belonging, it can be challenging to retain teams. As more talent is recruited, more employees can seem to filter out like a leaky bucket. Every employee brings something different to the team, and it’s important that they all feel comfortable and supported. In a session with Dr. Susie Wise, we learned valuable tips for designing an environment that fosters belonging.

“The work of belonging as it relates to more diverse teams getting innovative outcomes is ensuring that everybody’s voice is shared–that we’re bringing forward the different perspectives that we’ve worked hard to bring to the table. Getting to the table is not enough, we have to be able to share, contribute, give feedback, and be fully a part of that engine of innovation.” - Dr. Susie Wise, Adjunct Professor at Stanford and Author of Design for Belonging

Design for Belonging is a framework to support building greater belonging and reducing othering in our community. This is initiated by identifying moments that may need design. These are frequently moments of vulnerability where someone may feel they don’t belong. It is essential to listen and openly discuss when an employee doesn’t feel set up to be themself at work, then find opportunities to design a way forward.

There are many opportunities to design for belonging. These can be spaces that offer invitations to be our whole selves, rituals that bring teams together, roles that develop authentic responsibility, and through respectful systems. 

“Belonging is part of our culture. Culture happens every day in the way we speak to each other, the way we set up meetings, and even the way we think about workflow.” - Dr. Susie Wise

We know our team at Nutanix is bursting with creative and innovative ideas to contribute. The work of design for belonging ensures that we’ve built an environment where everyone knows they can show up and share those ideas, opinions, and authentic contributions that come from a deep sense of belonging to the mission and the work. Providing spaces that foster our employee's authenticity — like our employee-led L.I.F.E groups and rituals bringing our global team together like our Diwali celebration — affirms that we’re headed in the right direction. 

There’s No Quick Fix 

A diverse workforce combined with a culture that celebrates and supports that diversity is proven to lead to more innovation and better outcomes for businesses. Through Nutanix’s DEIB program, we build on our cultural principles to create a workplace where every employee feels valued and supported for the diverse perspectives that they bring to the table.

“I hope we keep doing things like this <Diversity Dialogues> to bring awareness and change to our company, making the workplace a place where people thrive and succeed at all levels.” - Nutanix Employee

Nutanix is committed to the work which requires courageous conversations, leaning into learning and growth. In addition to our Diversity Dialogues conference, we’ve continued our development by deploying DEIB micro-learnings to catalyze company-wide knowledge, and engaging our community through events and programs hosted by our employee-led LIFE groups, as described in our Environmental, Social, and Governance report. As we remain grounded in our core values, we will stay hungry, humble, and honest, with heart, as we continue ahead to the next chapter of our DEIB journey. 

Keep up with our journey by following our hashtag, #LifeAtNutanix and check out our open roles to join us in our next chapter.



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