Nov 30, 2018 Elsa Snellman
Challenges of diversity and inclusion in the field of tech are pretty specific: the collective stereotype of a person working in the field is that of a young, white man, working in a startup somewhere between San Francisco and San Jose. But tech is also increasingly recognizing these representation issues: the boys’ club of Silicon Valley is being broken by the likes of Emily Chang, Arlan Hamilton – also at Slush this year – and Sheryl Sandberg. Could the industry transform from follower to forerunner in tackling diversity debt?
Damien thinks so. “Tech is about innovating and trying new things. There’s a lot happening with diversity and inclusion across all industries. Some things have worked, others haven’t. The tech industry, at its best, can be progressive and daring – innovation of the new is at the core of everything we do, after all. But whether we’re a forerunner or not depends on our ability to benefit from these positive qualities. “Representation in tech is important. But if representation comes without inclusion, it isn’t enough. You can hire as many people you want, but what really counts is how people feel in your environment. You need to make people feel like they belong. It’s not just about hiring people – you have to be intentional about inclusion”, Damien says.
Damien stresses the importance of not excluding the majority when talking about diversity and inclusion. It means something different for everyone, definitions can vary. Instead of using labels, he encourages us to ask people what it means to them, personally.
Everyone knows how it feels to be excluded. The feeling of exclusion can stem from anything. You may have grown up in a single-parent family. You may not have attended an institution for higher education. There are as many feelings of exclusion as there are socioeconomic factors, and they vary from country to country. The conversation should revolve around sharing personal experiences. If people can feel safe and vulnerable, they are more open to seeing life through others’ eyes. You are more empathetic towards people who feel familiar to you. “We want to drive empathy and find specific ways to create experiences to better understand one another”, Damien says. By letting ourselves be vulnerable with one another, by actively looking for the common denominator, we get closer to a collective definition of true inclusion.
When being asked about the worst mistakes one can make while promoting diversity and inclusion, Damien points out that grassroots activity is only effective if it is in harmony with senior leaders who have authority in the organization. Only then can grassroots efforts hrive. “Participation of the senior leaders is important. Goals need to be long-term and sustainable”, he states.
There are two recent achievements Damien is extremely proud of. Both are great examples of what happens when one intentionally drives a diverse workforce where people can be themselves and bring their individual strengths forward in service of their customers.
He emphasizes the diversity within eBay’s seller community. “We have a diversity advocate program geared towards helping our underrepresented sellers. It offers them opportunities for further economic empowerment. And it gives us a better sense of who we’re serving, to know if we’re engaging with them well. Then we can further provide these sellers with better support.”
Damien also leads eBay’s University Recruiting and Program. “One of our interns this year has a cerebral palsy. In partnership with a supportive manager, he came up with HeadGaze – an open source technology using head motion to navigate a user interface. With HeadGaze, you can move back and forth across the eBay platform by moving your nose or your head. “It’s bleeding-edge technology”, Damien says. “It serves people with limited motor functions. It makes selling and buying on eBay more inclusive. This is a concrete example of eBay as a purpose-driven company.”
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