Diversity and Inclusion In Action

There’s no shortage of companies that talk about how they can benefit from a more diverse, inclusive, enabled and ‘open’ corporate culture. More rare are the examples of companies that put such ideas into practice – that walk the walk as well as talk the talk.

One such company is Red Hat, which sent a very clear message that it was taking such matters very seriously when it named Margaret Dawson as Chief of Staff, Office of the CEO / Vice President, Diversity & Inclusion in February 2021.

Here we talk to Margaret about the company’s ‘open culture,’ its approach to diversity, equality and inclusion (and what that means in practical and strategic terms) and much more. 

Red Hat is rightly proud of its open culture built on the concept of meritocracy, but how does this work in real life? For example, how is it possible for someone fairly low down on the career ladder to have their voice and their ideas heard? In what ways does this open corporate culture benefit the company?

MD:  Our culture was born out of our open source roots. Built in open source communities and using the open source development model, our guiding principles are that anyone can contribute and great ideas can come from anywhere. It’s meant to be non-hierarchical, allowing voices from all levels to be heard equally. How this works in real life at Red Hat is anyone can raise their hand and identify a gap or bring up an idea and push it forward. In addition, anyone at any level from anywhere in the company can question a decision, even one made by the CEO.

The ideal concept of an open, inclusive meritocracy is a great one. However, there are two challenges. One, the term meritocracy itself has issues, as this does not translate well across languages, cultures or histories; and there are inherently negative elements to this term. Second, most open source communities today are neither diverse nor inclusive. While anyone can contribute, it’s a competitive and highly aggressive culture in most communities, which have created behaviors many people find hard to navigate or tolerate. And rightly so.

Our job in our open, inclusive culture is to take the good parts of the open source ideal but hold people accountable for their behaviors and not allow the negative aspects to penetrate our physical or virtual hallways. We have succeeded at this in many ways.

Today, anyone can email or ask questions of any executive or leader. Our CEO and his leadership team model this. Also, innovative ideas truly do come from all corners of the organization and are celebrated. Our growth area is to make sure everyone is experiencing the open culture in a safe and inclusive way. We need to vastly improve our diversity across many dimensions and all geographies.

There is clear data that shows our open source-based innovation can only increase with a more diverse, inclusive culture and population. In fact, I like the equation:  open + inclusion = innovation! This is the equation for future success in open source communities and within Red Hat.

Tell us more about diversity and inclusion at Red Hat and how it has evolved over time? In your new role, where would you like to see things go in the future?

MD:  Our diversity and inclusion efforts started about five years ago with a focus on talent acquisition, associate belonging, and the development of employee resource groups (ERGs). The strategy has remained grounded in providing an open culture that is experienced by all.

As with so many organizations, 2020 marked a shift, particularly in the United States, and our early initiatives were put under the microscope. We worked with our ERG communities, especially Blacks United in Leadership and Diversity(BUILD) to address the trauma our associates were experiencing and to accelerate our D&I efforts. Part of this included accelerated hiring of DEI [Diversity, Equity & Inclusion] professionals and investing more in our ERGs and related activities. We also created a new group of talent scouts, whose role is specifically to do outreach among underrepresented populations to drive awareness of Red Hat and increase those who apply and get hired by Red Hat.

More recently, we created a new DEI Center of Excellence, reporting directly to the CEO. The DEI CoE is a dedicated team of experienced professionals and business leaders accountable for Red Hat’s DEI strategy, initiatives, and results. Our focus is on elevating and influencing inclusive communities and behaviors while also guiding and implementing best practices throughout the business. In making this move, we signaled to the company that DEI is not one team’s responsibility but that DEI should be infused in everything that we do. In fact, that is our vision: where diversity, equity and inclusion are infused in all we do and where all Red Hatters feel safe, included, aligned to the business, and able to be their authentic selves.

How has the Covid-19 pandemic impacted Red Hat's approach to diversity and inclusion? What has changed over the past 12 months?

MD:  In 2020, expectations around DEI changed, and organizations needed to move faster and make more impactful progress. Coming into this new role, I started listening. The only way to figure out what we need to fix is to listen to the people who are being impacted. I, and my whole team, have spent hours talking with our internal ERGs and associates at all levels around the world, hearing what life inside Red Hat is really like, and where we should focus our efforts. Especially this year, it can be easy to become overwhelmed by the volume of needs and issues that have to be addressed. We didn’t want to boil the ocean, so through our listening exercises we’ve identified a few areas where we can make an impact. Specifically, we are starting with the “I” in D&I, as inclusion must come first. I am also focused on creating more safe spaces for people to have courageous conversations.

The pandemic heightened the need overall for stronger associate engagement and care. Overall, as a company, we started doing more open forum gatherings with senior leaders, for example, where associates could ask anything. We provided new benefits and flexible ways to work based on this new reality, and we focused efforts on associate well being.

With the new DEI team, we continued these efforts with a specific focus on DEI topics and themes. We are holding monthly virtual “Open Discussions” on topics such as psychological safety, where we provide a basis of understanding and ensure a safe place for discussion. We are also holding smaller group discussions where associates or leaders can ask anything on DEI. With everyone remote, we are rethinking the future of work and how to continue giving associates flexibility, safety and opportunity. I’m excited that we are also applying our open source agility to our DEI strategy, piloting new initiatives, such as a sponsorship program, and learning from those pilots to continuously improve and accelerate implementation while still making sure we are listening and enabling our diverse global communities to co-create with us.

How does diversity and inclusion impact the daily working life of Red Hat associates?

MD:  It is all about whether you feel safe to bring your full, authentic self to work every day. We have to create a culture and environment where all associates feel safe to raise their hand and have their voices heard. The tech industry can be a challenging culture, and the lack of diversity across this industry impacts everyone. However, we cannot and will not use that as an excuse for our own diversity numbers or inclusion challenges. Inclusion means EVERYONE is included.

Therefore, what I would ask and wish for is that every Red Hatter starts each day with the intention to show up as their best self and treat others with respect, dignity and compassion. That every Red Hatter feels safe to be themselves and engage fully. In order to truly have the best ideas come from anywhere, we have to have diverse voices and perspectives in the discussion, and they have to feel safe to contribute.

How does diversity and inclusion play into Red Hat's hiring policy?

MD:  Inclusive hiring practices are now core to our talent acquisition. We are working closely with higher education organizations, such as Historically Black Colleges and Universities, University of Massachusetts, Boston University, and many others to improve our internships and early talent programs. I hope to expand this work to include institutions and groups known for advocating for diversity across underrepresented populations in tech, such as the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES), veterans organizations, those working with diverse abilities and neurodiversity, and others.

Our ERGs continue to play a critical role in outreach, enablement and referrals. In addition, we are bringing new processes into our hiring to reduce unconscious bias, such as resume anonymization. Also, as I mentioned before, we have a team of talent scouts whose all charter is reaching out and building relationships with underrepresented groups around the world. Further, we are expanding our training with programs such as “Right for Red Hat” and “Inclusive Team Dynamics” to help all associates and managers become more inclusive in how they hire, manage and promote. My team partners closely with our HR partners to develop new programs and scale the ones we have started.

Do you believe that Red Hat's approach to diversity and inclusion helps to attract top talent to the company? Are you able to give any examples?

MD:  I think we are absolutely on the right path to provide the safe space and inclusive culture for all dimensions of diversity, around the globe. I do believe we already have a differentiated culture with our foundation of openness and collaboration. As we achieve greater inclusion, the key is finding that intersection of openness and diversity. Just recently, we have attracted several new leaders who are women to the company, enabling us to change the landscape of our senior leadership team. This month, we are listening to the courageous stories from many of our associates in the LGBTQ+ community that illustrate how Red Hat is and can be a safe place for people to be their true selves without fear. This gives me so much hope.  

I came to Red Hat, because I believed in the power of open source and the open way of working, and that you can achieve anything you put your mind, heart and hard work to. That has absolutely been true. However, to be successful, it takes something more. It takes empathy, collaboration, and time to ensure everyone is on the journey with you. Our open source innovation and our culture attracts top talent around the world. Now, we are focused on making sure we achieve the next stage of innovation, and that can only be done with greater diversity and inclusion.  We believe that inclusion inspires innovation, and there are multiple research results that support this with data.

Red Hat has spoken out about some global issues in the past; how do you decide where to lend your voice and why do you think that's important?

MD:  This speaks to the challenge every organization is facing around where the boundaries are between a company and its employees and the societal, political, and human rights that are impacting its employees “outside the walls'' of the company. We look at each situation thoughtfully. First, we analyze if this is an issue that is directly affecting our associates in that region or situation. Is it directly impacting their ability to do their work? Is it making them physically or psychologically unsafe? We also look to see if there are ways to join with other companies to make our shared voices stronger and more impactful. For example, we recently signed the Human Rights Campaign’s business statement on anti-transgender state legislation in support of the many Red Hat associates who are part of that community. 

How do you measure the success of diversity and inclusion efforts?

MD:  One of our key measures is the scores in our annual Red Hat Associate Survey, which includes specific questions around belonging and psychological safety. This speaks to the inclusion side, which, frankly, is vital if we are to improve our diversity metrics. We are starting to dive deeper into this data to see where there could be issues or great success in certain teams, and then developing action plans to address or model that team’s environment. We also look at critical associate retention and attrition data to try to find trends, both good and bad.

In addition, we can now look more closely at the overall talent acquisition pipeline to see if bias is entering the process, and if so, create plans to fix that. For example, we are piloting a resume anonymization process in an area where we saw a drop off of underrepresented populations at a certain stage of the hiring process. We will then be able to compare data from before and after this new process. We may need to also incorporate strong unconscious bias training.

I am excited that we are now establishing new instrumentation and analytics that looks across multiple data points that can be analyzed by leader, function, and geography. This is driving new conversations and measures of success by function and leader aligned to what the data is saying, as well as increased accountability by all leaders. For example, one function may show a large gender disparity, so we will put a plan together to start addressing that. Moving forward, we will not only measure success across diversity, equity, and inclusion metrics for the company, but each leader will have their own DEI scorecard for their team.

Finally, we are looking at new ways to measure how our associates are experiencing our culture and to assess their overall engagement and well being. We hope to roll out these over the coming few months.

How do Red Hat’s diversity and inclusion efforts compare to the rest of the industry? Do you spend time talking about diversity and inclusion with other companies?

MD:  I think we are entering a new phase of our commitment, investment and focus on DEI. We have a dedicated team reporting into the office of the CEO, which is not only increasing the conversation overall but raising the level of that discussion to the corporate executive team. For example, we are holding DEI Open Conversations (as we call them) around the world to allow people to ask questions, have their voices be heard, and have courageous discussions. Last month, we focused on psychological safety. We are looking hard at how we communicate in email and other channels and implement new ways to make them more respectful and safe for everyone. We are developing DEI goals for every executive, which we will then share with the whole company. We are expanding the number and global reach of our ERGs, and just added the ninth ERG for Diverse Abilities. While it is still early in our maturity, and we have a lot of work to do to ensure all associates experience the same open, inclusive culture, we are accelerating our work here across the board.

We absolutely talk to other companies in the tech industry and beyond. I think we need to be careful not to look at just our industry as a model or vision of success. While there are tech companies further in their DEI maturity and doing great things in this area, the tech industry overall has not done enough to improve the inclusion, equity or overall representation of genders other than men, people of color, and persons of diverse abilities. Therefore, our DEI efforts have to go beyond this industry and think about what we need to do with our open source communities, our customers, our partners, and the geographic communities in which we operate. That is our focus and commitment.

Is Red Hat able to spread this diversity and inclusion message outside of its own organisation and into the industry at large and in open source communities?

MD:  Our DEI team is focused on how we can affect real change both internally at Red Hat and in the communities where we operate.  Internally, our primary goal is to ensure all associates are experiencing an open, inclusive, and equitable work environment and career, across all roles, levels or locations. Externally, we are working to raise awareness of Red Hat and the power of STEM careers around the world, and to specifically make open source communities more diverse and inclusive. We have specific outreach, educational and sponsorship programs with external organizations.

For years, we sponsored the Women in Open Source Award that spotlighted amazing work women were doing with open source technology. We are now evolving that to spotlight broader diversity in open source. Since 2010, we have been strong partners with Outreachy, a non-profit program that offers internships with free and open source software projects to people who face under-representation, systemic bias, or discrimination in the technology industry of their country. During that time, Red Hat associates have mentored over 100 interns. We also have a dedicated team working on a conscious language initiative that is focused on eradicating problematic language within Red Hat’s code. We have an incredible program called CoLab that partners with Middle Schools and other industry partners in the U.S. to teach girls about open source and the power of STEM. We are currently doing these virtually.

In addition, we have a small team currently working to update our social contract with customers and partners to ensure all associates in the field are free from discrimination or harassment. We are working to develop codes of conduct in all the communities in which Red Hat has a leading role. Also, we are sharing our learnings and journey with other companies, as this is one area where competition does not exist. We all need to work together to raise up each other and truly start to have more diverse and inclusive teams. These are just a few examples, and honestly, we are just scratching the surface, and are working to scale our efforts internally and externally.