WordPress’ Josepha Haden Chomphosy On How To Create More Inclusive Workplaces

An Interview With Finn Bartram, Editor Of People Managing People


Communicate Ethically: “Communicate with care (for your words and your people) and embrace your responsibility (for the processes and the outcomes).”

Creating inclusive workplaces is crucial for any organization that wants to get the most out of its talent. This means creating an environment where everyone feels like they belong, has equal opportunities, is empowered to do their best work, and feels comfortable making requests and contributing ideas. In this series, we asked prominent HR and business leaders about the steps they take to create more inclusive workplaces. As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Josepha Haden Chomphosy.

Josepha Haden Chomphosy is an accomplished leader and technologist in open source software. As the Executive Director of WordPress, she oversees the strategic direction of the world’s most widely used content management system (CMS), with 43% of all websites globally powered by WordPress.

Since taking on this role in 2019, she has devoted her work to cultivating a more diverse and inclusive community that welcomes hundreds of volunteers worldwide, expanding the platform’s reach, and empowering users to create exceptional digital experiences. Josepha is known for her leadership skills and philosophy, passion for open source software, and commitment to creating a more equitable and inclusive industry.

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I originally trained as a classical musician long before I started working with technology. I always had a particular interest in ensemble music, and learning how to bring together a collection of musicians to create a massive music experience was one of my earliest experiences with leadership. Many years later, I discovered WordPress through my mother. I was planning a visit when she told me she would attend a conference that weekend. She had a spare ticket to what turned out to be the local WordCamp, and, as many WordPressers can tell you, the community is one of the best ways to discover WordPress. From there, I learned more than I could have ever imagined about group dynamics, leadership in open source, and what it takes to secure the future of a volunteer-centric organization.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I think early on, I relied too much on the idea of “fixing it in post.” I am all for updating your site (or opinion, or decision) after publication, especially if you’ve encountered new information that changes your understanding. But when I first started, I had a lot of self-doubt and would prefer to wait until something proved itself wrong in a production setting. Fortunately, I wasn’t working on projects bound to set the world on a whole new course, so the mistakes were generally fixable, with only my pride being injured. :)

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

Apart from the usual people (parents, teachers, bosses), I had a mentor in college from whom I learned much of my foundational leadership philosophies. One that has stuck with me to this day is what he called “Confession Culture” as opposed to “Call Out Culture.” In his choral program, on the first day, he would teach students to raise their hand any time they made an error. It didn’t matter how big or small the error was; all you had to do was raise your hand to indicate that it happened. His theory was that errors happen if you’re pushing yourself to learn, and as long as you know about them, they can be fixed. It taught me the power of being honest with your limits and the importance of relying on those around you when you’ve lost your way.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite life lesson quote is from The Pirates of Penzance (I was obsessed with the 1983 version with Angela Lansbury since before I could read). It’s a socio-political satire, and in the opening act, the Pirate King says to his apprentice, “Always act in accordance with the dictates of your conscience, my boy, and chance the consequences.”

I have developed a strong sense of my internal compass and ethics over the years and know what boundaries are important for me to uphold. As a woman in technology, I often worry that being too insistent on my standards will earn me the label of being difficult or stubborn, or too exacting. But as I’ve learned more about how to lead in the open source way that I want for WordPress (and arguably the world), the more I have realized that we are all able to rise to any challenge, but only if we know and see what the challenge is.

The work of getting more women and historically underrepresented voices into technology means that we have to rise to the challenge of hearing the thoughts and opinions they’ve earned through their own experiences. And we can’t hear new perspectives if we always expect them to be presented in old ways.

Thinking back on your own career, what would you tell your younger self?

That having everything “figured out” is not only unnecessary, but when you work in fast-moving fields, it can be limiting. Knowing why you do or believe something is more important than what to do with specific scenarios. You will encounter new and interesting scenarios every day, so being able to see the common threads and how they interact with your own beliefs is far more important.

Let’s now move to the central part of our interview. What systems do you have to ensure your workplace is as inclusive as possible?

At WordPress, diversity and inclusion are core values that we prioritize in our systems and practices. We actively engage with a global community of contributors and users, encouraging individuals from diverse backgrounds to participate and contribute their unique perspectives. WordPress 5.6 “Simone” was the first of its kind in that it was a release 100% led by gender-underrepresented WordPress contributors with 56 first-time participants and a retention of 80% in the next release cycle. Based on its success, the WordPress 6.4 release will reprise this effort later this year. Additionally, we organize initiatives such as the Diversity Outreach Training Program, which mentors underrepresented groups in tech to speak and step into thought leadership positions within the WordPress project, and empowers community members to cultivate welcoming and diverse events. The new WordPress Mentorship Program also aims to provide resources and support to new and aspiring contributors to succeed.

Also, the project makes education and skills development accessible and fun to help people enhance their digital competencies. Open communication channels and a robust code of conduct help foster a safe and respectful environment where everyone’s voices are heard and valued.

But, apart from big projects or programs like this, there are small everyday changes that anyone can make in their organizations, especially if you work across cultures:

Use inclusive language in the way you address team members, project kick offs, and job descriptions.

Limit the use of jargon or inside jokes.

Normalize questions of all types.

Acknowledge and celebrate small wins and first steps.

Reframe mistakes as opportunities for learning and evidence of trying new things.

Related thoughts can be found in this video and this post.

Based on your experience and success, what are your top five tips for creating more inclusive workplaces? Please share a story or an example for each.

The Burden of Proof: “If you serve, or want to serve minority groups, then the burden of proof lies with you. Not with the people you wish were there.”

Define the Duty of Care: “The duty of care is the responsibility of one group to avoid decisions that harm another group in an organization.”

Documentation is DEI: “[Documentation makes sure] information is available at any time for anyone. It removes potential barriers to entry of having to know the right people or having time to set aside for […] learning. It also enables translation of your words so that learning isn’t limited to those who speak the same languages you do.”

Inclusion at All Levels: This reflects the holistic work required to prepare an organization for being inclusive instead of just diverse. Because inclusion is more than just inviting people to a party, it’s asking them to dance.

Communicate Ethically: “Communicate with care (for your words and your people) and embrace your responsibility (for the processes and the outcomes).”

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen businesses make while trying to become more inclusive? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

One common mistake is not having diverse representation in key positions. By ensuring that your teams reflect the diversity you want to achieve, different perspectives can provide valuable insights and contribute to more inclusive decision-making. Another mistake is implementing initiatives without a focus on meaningful action. It’s important to prioritize long-term strategies that address systemic barriers, create an inclusive culture, and provide the necessary training and education on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) to foster a shared understanding of biases, privileges, and the importance of inclusive practices.

How do you measure the effectiveness of your DEI efforts?

Feedback: By listening to WordPress contributors’ experiences, suggestions, and perspectives, we gain valuable insights into the impact of our efforts and identify areas for improvement.

Engagement and participation: Monitoring participation rates, contributions, and involvement of community members in WordPress events, programs, and initiatives help us understand if we are attracting and retaining individuals from underrepresented groups.

What do you do to address Proximity Bias? How do you ensure remote workers are treated the same as onsite workers and have equal access to opportunities?

This is a great question and something leaders have to keep in mind as the world’s workforce (hopefully) continues to become location agnostic. Using the volume of time spent in the office as a proxy for the volume of work being done has never been a good tactic, but traditional leadership allows for that passive measurement of output in our minds. If you’re leading a team that is not fully co-located (whether it’s decentralized, hybrid, or distributed), then you have to find a way to ensure your touchpoints with team members are equitable.

What I did during my first year leading a fully distributed team was to keep a “when did I last” tracker (using a modified Alastair Method). I logged weekly whether I had an intentional or unintentional interaction with team members which made it easy to see if there were people I hadn’t checked in with recently. It’s not a very scalable method, but it can help you develop the habit!

How can our readers further follow your work?

You can read some of my musings on leadership on josepha.blog or about WordPress on the micro-blogging sites with @josephahaden.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

About The Interviewer: Finn is the editor of People Managing People, an indie media publication on a mission to help build a better world of work. He’s passionate about growing organizations where people are empowered to continuously improve and feel fulfilled in their role. If not at his desk, you can find him playing sports or enjoying the great outdoors. To learn more about Finn’s work please go to https://peoplemanagingpeople.com/



Finn Bartram, Editor Of People Managing People
Authority Magazine

Finn is the editor of People Managing People, an indie media publication on a mission to help build a better world of work.