2019: The fifth Annual Spotify Inclusion Summit

Exploring allyship

In mid-May, 126 Spotifiers from all around the world met up in New York, NY for the fifth annual Spotify Inclusion summit. Our summit has evolved over the years, we have grown and we have learned, and this year we decided to go deep into the concept of allyship.

CEO Daniel Ek opening the fifth annual Spotify Inclusion Summit
CEO Daniel Ek opening the fifth annual Spotify Inclusion Summit

Allyship is central to creating inclusion and belonging; all of us want to be good allies but most are unsure exactly how. Let’s be clear here, allyship is integral to diversity efforts because it allows those who are at lower risk of prejudice, stigma, or discrimination the opportunity to advocate and champion others to gain visibility, validity, and credibility for their work and their contributions. In turn it also allows people to learn about their own privilege and the systemic inequalities that exist in preventing others from getting ahead. These moments of growth, curiosity, and discovery allow self-reflection on how our actions impact others. Seeing individuals through the lens of how they see themselves helps us move further down the inclusion path.  

The theme “Bring one, be one: The power of allyship” also allowed us to spread the knowledge a little deeper. We asked our usual suspects (the very engaged, the ones who show up every time and put their hearts where their mouths are) to bring a colleague with them this year. We asked them to bring someone who is interested and willing to engage but who hadn’t found their way in the inclusion landscape yet. Some of our sessions were split into tracks more suitable for those with previous experience and others for those who felt they had more use of an introductory class.

Our CXOs were there. They came as a team and during our second day, they got to dip into all the experience and knowledge in the room. Each leader had brought a top list of diversity and belonging challenges they are working on right now; the attendees split up into one troubleshooting group for each list and then dug right in together with the leader to start solving some very real issues we are facing.

And we had a real music treat as well when singer, songwriter, poet, and activist Jamila Woods joined us and played her music to us to wrap up one of the summit nights.

Becoming an ally to all

Keynote speaker Kenji Yoshino
Keynote speaker Kenji Yoshino

We learned about the allyship curve and how to begin moving along it, from being an individual’s ally to being an ally to all. We discovered the concept of “covering”; when people tone down their known stigmatized attributes in order to be included, and how and when that’s harmful to them. And we went on to learning techniques to encourage others to show their authenticity and possibly avoid covering at all.

In order to be inclusive and allow for every last team member to feel a sense of belonging, we have to allow our colleagues to feel it’s safe to uncover who they really are, and we all have to understand the part we ourselves play. Real change doesn’t come through big gestures from leaders, it comes from many small changes through the entire organization.

Making mistakes is par for the course, and as one of our keynote speakers, Kenji Yoshino, emphasized, the real magic of allyship lies in how we commit to changing the error and moving forward. We learned during the summit that we will keep making mistakes, everyone does. But if we recognize our mistakes, apologize where necessary, and learn from them, our mistakes will become a part of making the world a better place for everyone. One of the main messages we got about allyship during the summit is the importance of speaking with your own voice as an ally. Don’t speak for somebody else; don’t take away their power! And try your best to treat others as they want to be treated.

How to become a good ally 

Keynote speaker Lori Dobeus
Keynote speaker Lori Dobeus

Our other keynote speaker was Lori Dobeus, who sent us on our allyship journey, guiding us along through the three steps:

  1. Visibility – When you are visible, others can find you and know that you’re someone to talk to. The signals we send out matter; it can be as simple as wearing a t-shirt with a message or symbol on it. It can be talking about social or cultural events that matter to groups that you want to be an ally to. When you send out these signals, it reduces the pressure on others to cover up their true selves.
  2. Action – You can get involved in volunteering, mentoring or role-modeling.The more senior you are, the more impact your action can have. Just make sure you help others in the ways that they want to be helped. And don’t just ask the people you want to support what they’re needs are and make it their job to educate you; educate yourself!
  3. Speaking up – The most desired action is to speak up when acts of bias happen. In order to speak out, you first have to overcome both guilt and fear; the guilt of being part of an in-group, and the fear of rejection or fear of being cut out of the in-group. Lori told us to remember that “fear is just fear, not a prediction of what will happen if you speak out”, and she pointed out that everybody feels fear in these situations but that we learn to master the fear better the more we do it.

Last thoughts: be visible and vocal. The conversations that really make a change are when you talk to people who are not so versed in matters of diversity and inclusion, or in the cases where you yourself are not so educated in that particular group.

Learning from each other

We also learned from our colleagues, in the form of lightning talks where they shared their own experiences, challenges, and wins.

One very tangible situation where allyship becomes important is in situations where mental health issues are a factor. Our diversity approach includes an initiative (Heart & Soul) specifically targeting mental health and creating a safe and stigma-free environment where everyone can feel belonging. Talking openly about matters like this is a crucial part of this work, and we have many employees who are engaged in the work. So at the summit, we had a panel where other employees shared the experience of different mental health issues and educated us on what it takes to be a good ally to a colleague in need.

Our inclusion summit conclusions and next steps 

In our business, our platform, we are in active pursuit of reflecting culture and that’s a big job. It means as a company we need a workplace that also reflects the culture of the world we’re operating in, not just parts of it. And, frankly, without it we won’t have the staying power to endure all that is ahead of us in terms of growth, success, and reputation. So right now we’re hard at work breaking down our perceptions, challenging our own ‘good’ intentions to become better allies. Because we believe that we have to see this challenge from a systems perspective: that means we all have to show up, we all have to play our part. We need to find the root causes in the system and find long-lasting structural solutions for them, not just fix visible symptoms here and there.

We can’t do it without the support of our leaders

It’s the entire organization that needs to shift if we want real change, but that can’t be done without the support of our leaders. Our focus from here on out is to work even closer with our executive team who had shown they are willing to learn and grow in this arena. We all have a long way to go but all of us are engaged and working together to get there.

At this summit, we took one step further, by splitting the entire summit into groups who each worked with one executive team member to solve real challenges in their organizations. Like, how do we increase diversity in every team? How do we create a sense of belonging for everyone? And equal opportunities to access senior positions?

These are not simple tasks, but we have everything in place to be a change for the positive: Commitment from leaders, an engaged organization, and a growth mindset. We’re going to do this, one tiny system change at a time!