Making Organisations More Welcoming

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I’ve been grateful over the years to notice ways in which the EA organisations I’ve been part of have worked hard to be more inclusive. By being inclusive, I mean cultivating an atmosphere where people feel equally comfortable sharing their opinions, where work/burdens fall equally on different people and where everyone feels at ease with each other. I often feel that the EA orgs I’ve been at have tried harder at this and had more success than non-EA workplaces I’ve been part of. As someone who’s naturally shy, I’ve substantially benefited from this. I wanted to share some of the strategies which have seemed helpful to me. They’re often non-obvious and even when known they’re easy to forget, so I thought they seemed worth sharing. I also wanted to share this to express some of my gratitude to all the colleagues and friends who have suggested, researched and implemented the techniques below. I’d love for others to share (in the comments or other posts) techniques that have been helpful for them or examples of welcoming cultures they’ve been grateful for.

This article reflects my personal views only, not those of my employer (Global Priorities Institute) and draws on experience from a number of different roles in different organisations.

Meetings

To start with something simple, here are a few ways in which meetings can be run to try to make sure that all voices are heard:

- Choose a moderator: Particularly in large meetings, it’s worth assigning a chair or moderator, and working out a system for all participants to be able to register that they would like to speak (eg a shared googledoc that everyone has in front of them with the chat box open). The chair has the responsibility of ensuring that each person gets a chance to speak when they have indicated they would like to. This lowers the cost of contributing for shy members of the group.

- Rotate who minutes: It’s harder to contribute to a meeting if you’re minuting. Often, the same people regularly volunteer, with other members feeling that they don’t do as good a job at minuting and therefore never volunteering. To make sure everyone is equally able to participate in meetings, have a fixed rotation of who takes minutes, or bring someone into the meeting specifically to take minutes.

- Brainstorm individually: When brainstorming new ideas, it can be worth getting people to silently think about their own ideas and then write them into a shared document. This avoids anchoring, or people feeling that they ought to suggest only ideas that are similar to / build on those of others.

Building a welcoming team

- Mentorship: Assigning all staff members a mentor who is outside their chain of command (ideally someone who has been at the organisation a while) could help to give them someone to go to with questions or concerns, without worrying that they may be penalised for doing so.

- Sharing emotional labour: Some people naturally notice and take responsibility for work which benefits the whole team, such as organising team dinners and organising leaving parties. This can be experienced by those doing it as being under an additional burden. Those who find it more difficult notice such things can help by explicitly volunteering to take on jobs suggested by others: make clear that you would like to organise dinners, buy leaving presents etc, and welcome suggestions from others of when it would be appropriate to do so (along with any advice they have on doing it).

Growing a team

When recruiting is perhaps the most natural time to pay attention to how diverse a team is, and how to increase a team’s diversity. But given that it’s illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender, race, and other protected characteristics, it’s not necessarily easy to know how improve hiring to be more welcoming for candidates who are currently under-represented on your team. Here are a few things I’ve come across which have seemed useful in this regard:

- Gender Decoder(http://gender-decoder.katmatfield.com/): This piece of software allows you to run a job description/advert through it, and tells you what language in the description will appeal disproportionately to women or men. It will also suggest more neutral wording, or wording that appeals to the opposite gender.

- Brainstorming lists of underrepresented candidates: It can be easier to come up with new examples of a type which are similar to the examples you were already thinking about. That means if your staff is already comprised mostly of philosophers, when you sit down to consider who to recruit you might naturally come up with a list of more philosophers, even if you would actually like to be hiring more (eg) biologists. A useful thing to do in a case like this can be specifically asking yourself what biologists you know who it would be good to recruit.

- Proactively reach out: People vary widely in how confident they are about applying for roles, and people who are currently underrepresented in a field may be particularly likely to be underconfident. So if you have a list of candidates you would like to apply who have a different profile from your current staff, it’s likely to be worth reaching out to them personally to discuss the job with them and encourage them to apply.

- Balancing interview panels: It’s widely considered best practice to have somewhat balanced hiring panels, containing at least people with differing skill sets and of different genders. That can both help in increasing the information used for choosing candidates (because people who are different are likely to pick up on different things), and in making candidates feel more at ease in the interview. If you do this, it’s worth keeping an eye on whether there are any people who are disproportionately often asked to serve on hiring panels, and think about whether there are ways to make doing so easier and less time consuming for them.

Shaping a culture

I tried in the previous sections to give concrete, implementable suggestions. But there are a lot of things that feel hard to pin down but are crucial to forming a friendly, inclusive culture. What matters most for a person feeling comfortable in a team will differ widely depending on the person, so I thought I would just list a few of the things I’ve appreciated in the past:

- Being respectful about people’s limits: In atmospheres where everyone is pushing themselves to keep doing more to help the world, it’s been invaluable to me to feel that the people around me are truly understanding of each other’s limits. These limits are often very different – some people work harder than others, some spend more than others, some differ in their diets. Knowing that those around you aren’t judging you for your daily choices and actions, even when they make entirely dissimilar ones, makes all the difference.

- Believing in each other: Far from having to push to be taken seriously in taking on new challenges, I’ve often been encouraged by others to take them on. Belief in and encouragement of others can allow us to have a community where people aren’t held back by lack of confidence. (Then we need to support each other in taking on those challenges!)

- Being happy to hear feedback: I’ve been so impressed by how open the people I’ve met through effective altruism are to hearing feedback and how able to implement it. Humans working together is never going to be completely smooth sailing. But the waves are much easier to deal with knowing that if I (or someone else around me) feel(s) uncomfortable about something I can bring it up and we can figure out a solution together.

- Putting in the time: Building up a caring culture is difficult and time consuming, so I’m appreciative of all time and effort people in this community are putting into it. That might mean drawing up values for an organisation, and helping it stick to them. It might mean noticing things that could be irritating or alienating someone else on your team, and checking in with them in case they didn’t want to be the one to bring it up. Or it might simply mean making clear that you’re always there to help those around you if and when they need it.