The Startup
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The Startup

The power of diversity and inclusion

And why they are more than just buzzwords

44.9% was the percentage of White British population in London at the 2011 census

The rest of London was from different ethnic groups. It’s quite impressive, isn’t it?

London is one of the most diverse cities in the world. And this is one of the main reasons why I love this city and I chose it as my home.

Diversity and inclusion are themes that have drawn more and more of my attention recently. Curious to know more, I’ve done some research on these topics. I am writing this post to tell you what I have learned and share my personal opinions and experience.

Image from World Carrot Museum

I was born and raised in Sicily. As I’m sure most of you know, Sicily is an island in the South of Italy, in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. Sicily is an interesting one when it comes to diversity. In its history, Sicily has been conquered and dominated by several populations from different parts of the world for centuries. Every one of them has influenced different aspects of the Sicilian culture, including language, food, music and ethnicity, resulting in a very rich and diverse culture.

However, these days, the Sicilian culture values conformity more. According to my personal experience, it’s a society that encourages people to think in the same way. Besides, labels are important. It’s important to belong to a specific group, rather than act according to your values and be yourself. And a group is even cooler if it’s exclusive.

This should give you an idea about the cultural environment I have been exposed to while growing up.

Today, as someone who works in the tech industry in London, diversity has become quite a buzzword for me. Historically, in our industry, there’s always been a high concentration of men, especially in software engineering where I work. And as a hiring manager, when building teams, this is something to bear in mind at all times. It’s not easy though, when you hire another white guy in your team, you almost feel guilty. However, the tech job market in London is very tough and competitive, so what’s the right balance?

I’ve always thought that diversity can’t only be about the gender. There has to be more to it. This is what I’ve learned from my research.

An organisation that welcomes and encourages different opinions and ideas is way more likely to innovate, disrupt the market and be successful

Interestingly, the Cambridge dictionary provides two different definitions to the word diversity. The first one is “the fact of many different types of things or people being included in something” and the second one is “the fact that there are many different ideas or opinions about something”. I find this fascinating, as these two definitions really highlight why diversity is not only something we should aim for just because it’s cool or the last trend, but it’s actually a very powerful tool to unleash the potential of teams and individuals. An organisation that welcomes and encourages different opinions and ideas is way more likely to innovate, disrupt the market and be successful.

Another powerful definition is from an American University website that talks about acceptance and respect. According to them, diversity is about understanding that every individual is unique, appreciating our individual differences and celebrating the cultural enrichment diversity brings in. They don’t refer only to gender diversity, but also to other dimensions, like race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities and any beliefs or ideologies including religious and political.

However, as highlighted by Ellen Taaffe, professor of leadership and director of women’s leadership programs at the Kellogg School of management, in certain organisations it seems like diversity has become more like a business strategy or just the right thing to do. There are actually gaps between rhetoric and action, and they fall short when it comes to inclusion. Ellen Taaffe says that “inclusion is about welcoming, developing, and advancing a diverse mix of individuals. It’s about making all people feel valued, including changing practices that might unfairly benefit any one group, and making sure that everyone feels they have the same opportunity to advance and make an impact”¹.

Image from ResearchGate

Going back to my personal experience, I actually started hearing about diversity and inclusion only when I moved to London 3 and a half years ago, so I’m fairly new to the concepts. Recently, I’ve been exposed to them and started to fully embrace them as I work in a very diverse environment at Gousto. As the team that I manage gets bigger, and we hire more people, the level of diversity increases and inclusion becomes essential. In our team, we have people with families and children as well as singles living by themselves. We have people who are originally from different countries with different cultures. We have people who are coming from different business backgrounds, for example people who have just switched careers and moved from completely different jobs into tech as well as people who studied tech at university and have always worked in tech. We have people with different religious, political beliefs, different ages and different sexual orientations.

Image from Peach Tree Farm

The result is that people often have different opinions coming from different perspectives, challenge each other and add massive value to every discussion. This leads to better decision-making and more creativity. Ultimately, everyone wins. Regardless of whose idea is picked or even if the solution is a compromise, everyone has a constant opportunity to learn from each other.

Inclusion is key for such a diverse team to be able to work together effectively. Luckily, my company promotes flexible working and a very inclusive culture that makes sure everyone feels included and valued². As a result, everyone really feels they can make an impact and contribute to make our customers’ lives better.

In conclusion, I’ve told you about my personal experience with diversity and inclusion and what I’ve learned from my research. I hope I’ve managed to show you the incredible value of them and why they shouldn’t just be buzzwords.

Curiosity: at Gousto, we name our teams after vegetables, that’s why I chose to represent diversity with pictures of Carrots, Peas and Pumpkins, which are the names of my teams.

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Andrea Marchello

Andrea Marchello

Passionate engineering manager with a strong technical background and a genuine interest in Agile leadership and Lean principles. Musician as a hobby.