Culture

Diversity and innovation: how a diverse work environment is leading us to our desired future

Ana Carolina Mello & Thayane Massopust
Ana Carolina Mello & Thayane Massopust September 2, 2021
Diversity and innovation: how a diverse work environment is leading us to our desired future

The word “diversity” has a straightforward meaning: “the condition of having or being composed of differing elements”. We are all diverse; we have different backgrounds, stories, and pathways that brought us to where we are today.

However, when we apply this simple concept into our everyday social relationships – including the work environment – we begin to understand that diversity goes deeper than simply having different personalities, and that it’s all about recognizing who is not around us in our personal and professional lives and why.

Some elements can be added to these diversity calculations: race/ethnicity, gender identity, ability, sexual orientation and social class. These are not arbitrary categories, they picture social realities.

Look at your surroundings and notice how many white, cisgender, male, without disabilities, heterosexual, and class privileged people there are. Despite being a specific category of people, they are the majority in most workplaces, but not in our society.

While competence and talent are not exactly attached to how you look, where you come from, and your personal life, it seems that people who don’t meet most of those requirements are systematically excluded from some places and job positions.

Women’s employment rates are 27% lower than men’s. Black men living in poverty account for 22,8% of the total, while this percentage is 26,7% for black women. Black people are also more likely to suffer from discrimination and stereotyping at the workplace. Employment conditions for People with Disabilities are comparably worse. And why 61% of LGBTQIA+ people in Brazil don’t feel safe expressing themselves in the workplace?

These are societal facts that help us understand that maybe diversity needs to consider the voices that are currently being overheard. Data shows us that it’s not a matter of lack of competence, it’s actually a matter of lack of opportunity.

Now, can you imagine how many amazing talents we are missing out on because of social inequalities that prevent them from having access to these places? How can we get on the playing field and change this scenario? And how is it going to lead us to our desired future, in many different ways?

Education is our instrument of social impact

As we want a diverse and powerful future, the best way to achieve it is not only by hiring, but bringing those conversations to VTEX in a way we all learn about important subjects that brings consciousness to the whole company. By bringing consciousness, we are providing people with a tool to make a difference in the environment they are inserted into.

Since we understand that education has the power to emancipate, we decided to foster the debate about diversity and inclusion, and initiatives could arise from a growing consciousness about each one’s role regarding it.

But how do we know if our team is diverse?

It’s as simple as looking around and asking ourselves: do our colleagues look similar to each other, come from similar universities and have similar social and family backgrounds? If the answer is “yes”, it means that it’s time to address diversity.

Then, VTEXers developed the Diversity Committee and Affinity Groups, safe spaces to bring the topic to the table and act. Who would be better to discuss diversity and inclusion at VTEX than the VTEXers? But we know that knowledgeable and experienced assistance is valuable, so we partnered with Mais Diversidade to help us lead this way.

Today, we focus on 4 main diversity pillars: LGBTQIA+, race, ethnicity and culture, gender equality and also local issues. The last one represents our effort to value sensitive diversity topics for each location. We know diversity is a global matter, but has local challenges, and we incorporated this into our strategy. So, right now, as our affinity groups follow these 4 pillars, the local subject discussed for Brazil is regarding People with Disabilities.

Another major step was to understand that inequality is a big social problem and that it can prevent many potential employees from embracing our job opportunities. This is why projects like Women in Digital, Transformar CX and Black Tech Writer are created. Projects that encourage underrepresented groups to see themselves in the tech world, by becoming digital commerce specialists and learning it from a tech company.

We also know that we need to say it out loud for us to reach the right people who will build this desired future with us. We understand how important it is to use our voices and tell our stories, as we did at the Pride Campaign and we will keep bringing these really important messages to every individual that somehow is connected to our company.

All of these initiatives and many other ones that we will build on this way are what we believe strengthens our commitment with diversity: to promote equity with our own hands from the most powerful tool: education.

Diversity is a powerful tool for innovation

Innovation comes from “looking at the problem from a different angle”, as Simon Sinek puts it. Looking from different angles is boosted when you have a team of people that come from diverse backgrounds, life perspectives and have different needs. No doubt any group of people can have amazing innovative ideas based on knowledge and professional experiences, but it’s also true that solutions will most likely come from similar personal interpretations of the challenges.

Being a tech company already brings us to a place where everything we do is focused on innovating, it is not only in our product, but also our perspective on what is a diverse environment.

Offering a challenging yet safe and diverse environment is giving our coworkers the freedom to be who they are and to create with their own perspectives, feeling fully autonomous to do what is best for the company and for our commitment with diversity and inclusion. This freedom, autonomy and creativity bring us insights from many perspectives and the chance to open our minds and be innovative.

There is extensive data that proves how diversity can increase profit, team empowerment and raise the participation of innovation in a company’s revenue. But at this point, many of us already know that. What is important for us to understand is that demographic diversity by itself doesn’t generate these numbers magically. These results are actually created by people, and for our people to thrive, we must ensure they feel like they belong. As Robin J. Ely and David A. Thomas wisely put it in their Harvard Business Review article, “Increasing diversity does not, by itself, increase effectiveness; what matters is how an organization harnesses diversity, and whether it’s willing to reshape its power structure.”

Once we, as companies, review our power structure and recognize different approaches that could lead us to our desired future, we start acting towards this matters. No doubt, investing in our future talents, fostering a sense of belonging and ensuring their protagonism are big steps towards fostering inclusion and, consequently, innovat. 

¹SINEK, Simon. Start with why: How great leaders inspire everyone to take action. London: Penguin Books Ltd, 2009.

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