Inclusion Riders in Tech

Frances McDormand introduced the world to “inclusion riders” at the Oscars and I’m thrilled.

Craig Sjodin/ABC

The approach cited by McDormand was created by Dr. Stacy Smith at USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative and was originally envisioned to diversify talent in the media. You can read more about their work here.

A rider modifies a contract for the specific needs of a given engagement or contract participant. They are notably used in the music industry, where artist riders specify details for the safety and comfort of a touring act. Van Halen famously forbade the presence of brown M&M candies in their rider, as a means of quickly determining if the technical and safety details of the contract had been scrupulously understood and addressed.

An inclusion rider leverages the power of a person — or a team — that is in high demand. Given the intense competition for skilled, experienced talent, an inclusion rider is a way to expand from the singular success of “rockstars” toward a scalable, group impact.

Speaking Gigs

Eric Ries kindly asked for advice via Twitter regarding inclusion riders for his speaking gigs and what to ask for. As a pioneer of the lean startup mindset, Eric is in high demand, so he makes a great test case.

Here are suggestions for what to request in a speaking gig opportunity. Not all of us are invited to speak at conferences that require a contract and, therefore, the opportunity for a rider. Still, it’s worth mentioning that conferences should be mindful of the following. If we all ask for these things, we can push toward a more inclusive baseline.

  • a code of conduct for the conf
  • a diverse line-up of speakers across, at a minimum, race/ethnicity and gender
  • time in your presentation to highlight a guest; use that slot to highlight someone from an underrepresented background doing interesting work
  • equal honoraria for keynotes
  • union/labor conditions of the venue
  • ADA accessibility of the venue
  • captioning and/or sign language interpretation for sessions
  • gender neutral bathrooms
  • nursing/feeding areas
  • food options that consider religious/cultural diets

Your requests can be quite exhaustive, especially if you truly are a person who is in demand. If you are in a position to dictate terms, think through other conditions specific to the needs of the people you want to see at the conferences you attend.

Even in cases where we don’t have the leverage of popular demand, we can still ask these questions as part of our consideration for speaking. Again, the goal is simply to ensure that the widest audience possible can access the gathering and see themselves represented on stage. The goal is to establish a new normal that is more inclusive and diverse.

Negotiating a job offer

During the interview process, folks at all levels in tech can ask some pointed questions about inclusion. Few of us will be able to “demand” that inclusion is taking place but, like with speaking gigs above, one of the points is to push a new normal in our conversations with potential employers. Here is a list of questions to ask when considering a job:

  • Outside of the usual race/ethnicity and gender reporting of your staff, what else do you track? Is there data around age, disabilities, LGBTQ community, parental status? Can you share retention data as well?
  • Which vendors do you use for janitorial, food, security services? Is there a policy around living wages or unionizing for these folks?
  • How do you choose venues for events? Are there inclusion requirements for those?
  • What is the company’s compensation philosophy and what’s the discussion around transparency of comp, including distribution of equity?
  • If someone requires accommodation or wants to suggest a policy around inclusion, what’s the process for that?
  • Who are the executives who champion inclusion in the company?

Now, for those who can actually demand things of an employer, it gets really interesting. This is often at the executive level, but not exclusively. Any time you are the solution to a pain point for a company, it’s worth a discussion. Just imagine being able to say to a prospective employer:

“I will come work for you, but only under the following conditions. First, this company needs a deadline for ending the compensation gap that exists along race and gender lines…”

Also consider bringing people with you:

“I require these three people (from underrepresented backgrounds) to come with me as part of my team,” or “I will only lead a team that is diverse, so I need to know how much hiring I’ll be able to do in the first 12 months.”

These are game-changing negotiation points in the name of inclusion. Leverage your own power, no matter your background. And always remember that a rising tide lifts all boats.

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