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Reflecting on 2020 and Looking Ahead to 2021 with OCTO’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Efforts

Twenty-twenty was a remarkable year (to put it mildly) and both the Office of the CTO (OCTO) and VMware — like organizations everywhere — were challenged to continuously adapt to the endless changes. We quickly shifted to remote work at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, talked frankly and listened sincerely to one another during protests over racial injustice, and persevered through geopolitical strife.

I joined VMware in February, 2020, to oversee and strive to fulfill OCTO’s diversity and inclusion vision and goals. While the year’s trajectory went slightly askew of what I planned, OCTO was still able to make impressive progress. In January of 2021, we amended the name of the program to become “diversity, equity, and inclusion.” (I’ll explain why later in this post.)

In 2020, I viewed our OCTO DEI efforts as foundation-building, designed to set us up for success. We needed to strengthen relationships, communicate frequently about DEI, and build an inclusive environment within OCTO.

After some reflection, I wanted to share the three major themes that emerged over the course of the year. I’ll also share three areas I want to the program to focus on in 2021.

Our major 2020 DEI themes included:

  1. Partnerships with OCTO leadership
  2. Developing inclusive behaviors
  3. Maintaining the drumbeat of DEI

Theme #1: Partnerships with OCTO leadership

I’m not usually one to make definitive statements, but I believe leadership involvement is a non-negotiable component of successful DEI efforts. Thankfully, I haven’t had to work hard to get OCTO leaders on board with our DEI goals. They all are passionate about inclusion and truly understand the importance of diverse teams.

We encouraged many OCTO leaders to express this passion by holding listening sessions for their teams. These sessions gave employees the opportunity to speak freely about issues that they were concerned about, like work/life balance, career growth, and transparency. These discussions helped leaders build trust within their teams and helped them begin to seek solutions to the employees’ problems and concerns.

Inspired by the success of this activity, we asked OCTO leaders to set actionable goals for themselves and their teams and present them at the triannual OCTO Business Reviews. Along with listing their goals, we asked them to enumerate supporting actions to achieve these goals, metrics to evaluate them, and periodic updates of their progress towards achieving them.

Theme #2: Developing inclusive behaviors

Through ongoing global conversations about racial injustice to new teams joining OCTO, inclusion was top of mind in 2020. We developed additional programs, launched new trainings, and — as we mentioned above  — encouraged honest communication among team members.

Some of our inclusion-focused activities included:

  • Collaboration and amplification of VMware POD community activities
  • Cross-OCTO Listening Sessions, focused career growth and work/life balance
  • Celebration of holidays and awareness months
  • OCTO Inclusive Language Campaign (read all about it here)
  • OCTO Mentoring and “Reverse Mentoring” Program
  • Mental Health Panel with OCTO leaders

While it seems like we did a lot, inclusion is not magically created through a few trainings or events. Inclusion is every word, action, and decision made by everyone within the organization. When we develop and practice inclusive behaviors across OCTO, we set an expectation of how we need to treat one another and how we want to be treated, so everyone feels welcomed, appreciated, and included.

Theme #3: Maintaining the drumbeat of DEI

Throughout 2020, we talked about diversity, equity, and inclusion a lot in OCTO. By “a lot,” I mean every chance we got. This was not because we had a lack of other things to talk about (our OCTO Blog shows that couldn’t be true) but because we are so focused on making it a seamless part of our OCTO functions and communications.

We had a specific section for DEI topics in every all-OCTO All Hands, our internal OCTO newsletter, and additional OCTO-wide events. There were many DEI-themed blog posts on the OCTO Blog, as well as on the VMware Careers Blog. We helped facilitate DEI events at company-wide events and conferences. VMware’s CTO and OCTO’s fearless leader, Greg Lavender, frequently brought up DEI when communicating with or about OCTO.

We also allowed opportunities for folks to interact with one another on DEI topics. We actively posted articles, opinions, and questions on a DEI-specific Slack channel so we could hear from various perspectives. We also post a monthly round-up of all DEI-related communication on our main OCTO Slack Channel so folks can stay on top of everything that was shared in the last month.

By making DEI a regular topic in every all-OCTO meeting, newsletter, and recurring communication, it is no longer seen as simply something to talk about when there’s a relevant event or holiday, but a crucial part of what OCTO cares about and stands for as an organization.

OCTO’s 2021 DEI Focus

In 2021, there’s no doubt we will continue to partner with our leaders, practice inclusive behaviors, and keep the DEI drumbeat going. As we’ve worked hard to lay the DEI groundwork for OCTO, we will be pushing ourselves even harder in 2021 to see what and who else we can impact.

Our 2021 DEI focuses include:

  1. Integrate Equity
  2. DEI Impact Beyond OCTO
  3. Measure Everything

Focus #1: Integrate Equity

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, in January of 2021, VMware added “equity” to our mantra of diversity, equity, and inclusion. For folks like me who’ve worked in the DEI field for a while, this is not surprising: the research has long demonstrated that equity is the key element to diversity and inclusion.

If you’re a bit confused what we mean by equity, don’t worry — it can be an overwhelming concept to grasp at first glance. “Equity” means that every person gets what they need to succeed, based on where they are currently and what outcome they wish to have. Unlike the concept of “equality,” equity does not mean that everyone gets the exact same thing. It means that folks get what they need, whether that be support, resources, or access to achieve the result.

Example: If I’m painting a room with my friend Hilary, we will need different height ladders, as I am 5’5” tall on a good day and she’s 6’3” tall, no matter what. Instead of us both using the same height ladder, an equitable solution would provide me with a taller ladder than hers so I could reach the same area of wall as Hilary, without struggling or relying on her to help me.

Within OCTO, we are going to be focusing on equity in how we support our people across the organization. We will evaluate our processes and decision making around performance and talent management, so we can both uncover potential biases and make sure all receive equitable treatment.  We will also align closely with our newly formed Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance Office within OCTO as it tackles issues of social impact, sustainability, and digital inclusion through VMware’s 2030 Goals

Focus #2: DEI Impact Beyond OCTO

As the old saying goes, no organization within a business is an island (that’s how it goes, right?). OCTO impacts many other business units within VMware, from our technical partners across R&D, to functions such as Finance, Human Resources, and Marketing. One of our overarching OCTO DEI goals reads, “Be a Champion for DEI Inside and Outside of VMware.” I am confident that in the upcoming year, we will achieve that.

This year, we will partner with other business units every quarter to host or coordinate DEI events. We also plan to collaborate closely with our Power of Difference (POD) communities to bring their programming into OCTO and OCTO’s innovation efforts to the broader POD audience.

We also want to impact folks outside of VMware through DEI-themed conferences, events, speaking opportunities, and recruiting fairs. Our external DEI efforts will not only help share OCTO’s achievements to an external audience but will also encourage individuals to see how interconnected DEI is to our business strategies and culture of innovation.

Focus #3: Measure Everything

Diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts are not quick solutions that can produce the results you want in a few months. Changing an organization’s DEI data — whether it’s representation, retention, or even engagement — might take many years, so it’s important to be able to see that trend data over time.

At VMware, DEI data is measured across the company on a quarterly and annual basis — published annually on the VMware website. Within OCTO, we aim to exceed the baseline company DEI metrics by also including the OCTO Leader DEI Goals listed above, as well as engagement across the board for our training and inclusive activities.

Though I do love diving into an Excel Pivot Table as much as the next person, I get to work with OCTO’s in-house data professionals on OCTO’s Strategic Programs and Analytics Team to measure our efforts in more creative, impactful, and innovative ways.

I won’t belabor the point by saying once again that 2020 was a unique year (I’ll also avoid the term we’re all sick of by now — “unprecedented”),but its uniqueness did allow us to strengthen our adaptability muscles and rethink what is needed to build a diverse, equitable, and inclusive team. I am excited to see what new challenges, ideas, and innovations 2021 will bring … and I’ll be sure to keep you posted throughout the journey!

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