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Kirby Leong

Inclusiveness in Online Communities

Posted by Kirby Leong in kirby.leong on Nov 23, 2011 2:52:58 PM

Embracing Inclusion - Driving Innovation Event

I attended the “Embracing Inclusion - Driving Innovation Event” at the recent SAP TechED/SAPPHIRE NOW in Madrid. While the theme was about driving innovation, my breakout group discussions focused on creating a more inclusive work environment for “non-high fliers”; that is, those who are more than competent in their roles but who choose not to take on significant additional responsibilities. Some of the key themes we discussed included

 

  • Organizational policies – for example,  matching non-high fliers with the right roles
  • Reward systems – for example, implementing “personalized” rewards that may include a combination of financial bonuses, time off, recognition, and other rewards
  • Balance – for example, allowing for telecommuting and flexible hours


Here’s a picture of my amazing team from that night:

 

Another key highlight was hearing the personal stories a few (brave) audience members shared. One member spoke about her challenges wanting to excel in a technology company but with a strong set of non-technical skills.  Another member shared her story of being actively discouraged by her husband at the time from pursuing a highly technical field of study because “it would be too difficult for a woman” (she did it anyway). Finally, someone shared interesting research indicating that when starting out in the workforce, women tend not to negotiate salaries, which automatically puts them at a compensation disadvantage.

 

Inclusive Online Communities

Heading out of the event just past midnight and still energized after a long day, I started to think about the topic of inclusiveness, as it relates to online communities. One could define inclusiveness as the extent to which an online community incorporates and encourages diversity in viewpoints, beliefs, backgrounds, interests, gender, culture, age, and status to name just a few. Inclusion also means trying to ensure that members are heard and not shouted down or marginalized. On the flip side, there is also self-imposed exclusion. By default, staying on the sidelines but then feeling excluded from the community group. A friend of mine once said, “When you feel like an outsider, you start acting like one. And when you start acting like one, then you are one.”

 

Sometimes online communities can seem like the wild frontier where individuals, feeling emboldened by a degree on anonymity, inflict their own viewpoints on others and in the process shout down differing viewpoints. With an increased ability to broadcast our own opinions, we have correspondingly grown intolerant to hearing differing opinions. What I learned from the event is that you also need to have a strong sense of common mission, guiding principles to facilitate passionate and inclusive dialog, and shared norms that dictate what is and is not acceptable behavior, with corresponding corrective mechanisms. It’s never pleasant or easy to tactfully impose corrective actions given that there are often ambiguous scenarios where you have to balance individual rights of expression and the good of the community.

 

All this pontificating aside, here are some points about creating more inclusive (online) communities:

 

  • Be clear about the mission and guiding principles for the community and ensure that diversity and inclusion are part of the core values the community lives and breathes
  • Actively encourage and value differences in views/opinions
  • Reach out to those who are less vocal but who have something valuable to contribute
  • Know when to stop the dialog and when to redirect the dialog when it’s no longer productive or supportive of the community’s mission and spirit
  • Know when to “exclude” but err on the side of inclusion. As much as possible , “Live and let be”
  • Get to know the strengths of members as much as possible and reach out to them especially if the issue/topic relates to their core strength
  • Lots of trial/error/success – communities are dynamic, changing, evolving – inclusion is something to be managed on-going rather than something that can be solved
  • As a community member, don’t exclude yourself from the topics that (could) matter to you
  • Use simple language for those who do not speak the standard language as a first language
  • Specifically reach out to groups, where needed, to broaden diversity
  • Give leeway to people to express opinions since different cultural, socio-economic, gender, ethnic, and other factors have different norms
  • Be aware of our own level of inclusiveness. We may not realize our own discriminatory patterns we have learned
  • Help keep the spirit of the community in tact by gently and sometimes not so gently enforcing shared norms
  • Everyone has something valuable to contribute but be open to what “valuable” could look like

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