Spotify Inclusion Summit 2018

It’s hard work but it’s heart work!

On April 17th, we opened the fourth annual Spotify Inclusion Summit in a Stockholm where spring had finally kicked in. There was light and sun and hope and more than one of us spent a couple of minutes thinking about how far this event has come over these years.

In 2015 it was a small group of 50 people educating each other on what diversity means, taking bold steps just to put diversity on the agenda and get the dialogue started. In the world around us, diversity discussions were still about being compliant, or diversity as something you did for ethical reasons. The year after, in Stockholm, the meeting was still not big enough for microphones at the venue, and we focused on how to develop and implement a proper Diversity and Inclusion Strategy. Last year we renamed it the Inclusion Summit, because diversity is nothing without inclusion. We met up at the iconic Abbey Road Studios in London and dug into issues around race and ethnicity. We shared experiences, and we learned about the impact bias has on technology, and then we, very hands-on, developed plans for addressing our own challenges at Spotify.

This year’s summit is the next logical step. We have taken the feedback from previous summits into account and this year we are going beyond awareness and action, to take a deep look into leveraging our diversity for greater things. Because diversity drives innovation and that fact changes the way we think about innovation, diversity, and inclusion. Diversity and Inclusion issues don’t need to be addressed just because we want to be nice and do the right thing. They need to be overcome because they are critical for innovation and for our success.

“Our mission is to unlock the potential of human creativity – by giving a million creative artists the opportunity to live off their art and billions of fans the opportunity to enjoy and be inspired by it.”

We want a world where everyone is welcome and able to be their very best and their authentic selves, because that’s the kind of world we want and because that’s the only way the world will move forward and innovate. Together.

Diversity is a strategic advantage and inclusion is a means to get it. Embracing our differences ensures that Spotify continues to be the destination where we can connect the dots and move both culture and innovation.   

Who was there

Our delegates apply to come to the summit (except the executive lead team, they get wild cards) and this year 350 Spotifiers asked to be considered. The 145 delegates were chosen for their commitment to diversity and inclusion, but also to represent as much diversity and as many parts of the organization as possible. We had some very hands-on workshops on how to utilize diversity to increase innovation and we need the insights and methodology to be taken back to every corner of the organization. We also rely on these ambassadors for continuous work and help with diversity and inclusion initiatives throughout the year, so a good spread over the organization was more necessary than ever.

What we did

Our keynote speakers set the mood, inspiring us as examples of what can be achieved when you manage to be inclusive and everyone can bring their authentic selves to the job to be done.

Jason Mayden (formerly Senior Global Design Director at Nike, now CEO and co-founder of children’s shoe company Super Heroic) reminded us that we are all “cultural alchemists” and we all play our part. We need to stay true to ourselves and remain authentic, and this is not just about us and our ability to innovate. It’s also about those who come after us, they need to see role models, people like themselves, without any cultural sanitation.

Our second keynote was by by Frans Johansson, Swedish/African American/Cherokee writer and founder of the Medici Group company. He spoke about how he has been his most innovative when he has made use of the intersection between different minorities that make up his background. He also had some very hands-on tips on how to stay innovative and combine ideas to winning concepts.

A large portion of our time together was spent in workshops on how to efficiently utilize team diversity to generate, select, and execute better ideas. We learned methods and tools for inclusion in practice and that when it comes to ideas, quantity leads to quality, and non-traditional routes lead to better and more inclusive solutions. The methods and tools go all the way from the simple “make sure the team you put together is diverse” (an aspect that is surprisingly easy to overlook, so we need constant reminders to always diversify and be inclusive so we can voice as many attributes as possible), to methods for simplifying execution of ideas so many ideas can be tested without making huge investments. We learned ways of making sure that everyone’s skills and knowledge is brought up and utilized in a brainstorming session, and ways to start the creative process based on the diverse input of the team. We learned about the importance of bringing in new people with other backgrounds at different points of the process. New perspectives always improve ideas and spark further creativity. We also learned how to actively challenge our own selection criteria. Diverse selection criteria lead to diverse ideas being seen and chosen!

All summit delegates now have the assignment to bring these tools back to their organizations.

Insights that were shared

The summit also comprised a series of “lightning talks”, where colleagues got up on stage for seven minutes to share important experiences, insights, or projects. We did this last year too, it’s a very powerful way of spreading knowledge and inspiration from some of all the good initiatives and the hard diversity and inclusion work that’s being done around the company:

  • Our accessibility guild gave examples of how we can reduce barriers for those with disabilities, and how that makes our product better for everyone.
  • We got a look at how algorithmic bias happens and how to fight it back with bias-aware product development.
  • Our London office is a bit on the small side for creating many different Employee Resource Groups, so for maximum impact and support they have created one common “Remix” group instead. We got to hear about their challenges and successes.
  • We got data and insights in how female artists are streamed on Spotify, and what the road towards greater female representation looks like.
  • Team Australia shared experiences from their work over the past year and how their cross-functional approach has made magic happen.
  • Black history is happening now; not for one month a year but all the time. Our US BLK Employee Resource Group shared their work on how they extended the awareness to last all year long.   
  • Our social impact group gave us insights into how we can change society through culture and why and how diverse representation has impact.
  • We heard from our R&D function on how they have worked with ways of making the interview process more inclusive and avoiding unconscious bias.

The leaders’ take

This summit had two panels, where we could get inspired, ask questions and hear from both a group of external leaders who are successful at their intersections, and our own lead team. There was Susanne Najafi, entrepreneur and venture capitalist telling us how her background and view on inclusion allows her to find great investments that the rest of the market can’t. Publicist and DJ April Hunt (formerly at MoMA PS1, now at SparkplugPR), sharing her experiences on opening up the door for underrepresented groups and how that leads to better results for everyone. They were joined on stage by our own Natalie Mellin (D&I lead for our R&D department). They gave valuable insights on how “the similarity effect” (when you choose others who are like you) works against diversity. The panel were very clear that there is nothing wrong with the pipeline, you just have to step outside of your own network and not only look at your friends’ friends when you recruit. Norms will not change by accident!

Our lead team shared their main takeaways from the summit and what their own next steps to increase both diversity and inclusion will be. We talked a lot about the fact that when you hire someone new you need to not only look at each candidate’s competency, but how it matches the competencies you already have in the group. How much of an overlap is there and which candidate adds the most relevant new competence? We talked about balancing what feels easier in the short term and what you will gain in the long run, and that all changes have to start from the inside. And we spoke about how to measure diversity and inclusion, it’s not just about employee numbers but about allowing diversity to have an impact on the output. That’s where the huge wins are.

Key takeaways from this year’s summit

  • Diversity and inclusion drive innovation and speed
    If we want to get all the benefits that can come with diversity, we all need to be truly inclusive and don’t “culturally sanitize” ourselves. For an individual to hide their uniqueness is unhealthy, but also harmful to innovation, as it takes away the diversity that can give us an innovative edge. On the contrary, we need to find the different aspects of ourselves, our personal diversity, and use it together with our team members’ diversity. That will make us “cultural alchemists” who can turn diversity into gold.
  • Change does not come from awareness alone
    We need to re-design and be thoughtful of our tools and methods.
  • These are accessible, easy-to-use methods and tools to leverage diversity and inclusion
    It was not the ideas we came up with during the summit that was key, it was trying new and old tools to be more thoughtful of diversity & inclusion.
  • Diversity and inclusion should be part of every process in a business
    It’s just better that way, for the people and for the business.

After the summit

Being a delegate at the Spotify Inclusion Summit is not a two-day commitment but a year-long one. All delegates will now be inclusion ambassadors in their organizations, and also bring back the learnings and the methods from the summit to their colleagues. We have provided them with a kit for presenting a summary of the summit and teaching the methods. We all keep in touch to share experiences and further learnings, and report back on how what changes we have made and what new methods we have tested or embedded in our function’s day-to-day work.

Diversity is not an issue, it’s an opportunity, and we are going straight for it!