How to keep moving on your Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging journey

45 days in as the new Head of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging. What a great opportunity to reflect back on Spotify’s journey in this area and let those thoughts guide our hypothesis of what needs to be done to further transform our work.

There are questions we need to answer in parallel with developing our vision for the future of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging at Spotify. If we’re going to show up in the world – as global citizens, and also as a company to our employees, creators and listeners – then it’s important to gather where we are today.

One thing I am sure of: we need realized-actions in our plan, and by being able to reflect and project, we’ll be able to better understand what those realized-actions should be and how they will help us along on this journey.

Take your time. Don’t be a diversity saviour.

When developing and evolving a Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging strategy, you first need to categorize things in these three priority buckets:

  • The Right Now
  • The Near
  • The Far

I heard this from Brian Lamb, Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion at JPMorgan Chase & Co. and it stuck with me. Why? Because many of us have the trait of being a “fixer,” meaning that we might see inefficiencies or quick fixes and jump to solution-mode first.

Those fixes might be steps we need to take first, but we must also give enough space to do due diligence and long term planning.

When reflecting and getting started on mapping out The Right Now, The Near and The Far, a few “what keeps you up at night” questions are playing on my mind. They are:

  • Are we feeding the Spotify soul with the right food?
  • We are in the same boat, are we rowing in the same direction?

Are we feeding the Spotify soul with the right food?

As I’ve been going through a kind of re-boarding process talking to my HR colleagues, I very quickly realized that there is a significant amount of work going on for the continued journey to a more inclusive culture internally, but also as a response to the social injustice happening around the world. While we have the responsibility to relegate any systemic inequity that exists within the walls of Spotify, we also must realize that many of our employees are facing these challenges in their life experiences, and that weight carries into Monday morning work hours. When we ask folks to bring the best version of their authentic self to work, we also have to acknowledge the aspects of their lives that show up in various ways – in work performance, work schedule, emotional wellbeing, and tone of approach. How we show up for our employees in these moments is as important.

Now, the honest question we must ask ourselves is: Are we feeding the soul with the right food? Let me explain with two further questions.

  1. what are we doing to feed the soul during this time of global social unrest, a crippling pandemic that has led into a mental health concern?
  2. are we being reactive to the now vs. offering a holistic strategy of action?

The first part especially hits home for me. From my personal experience, as a black man living in America, I have wrestled mentally with the recent amplified events this year. Coming face-to-face with prior experiences of racism, hatred and bigotry, I understand the emotional tax and mental fatigue this has caused so many people. Even more so, being a Head of Diversity and Inclusion for a global organization has also added its own complexity – you tend to be the one that leads and advises the organization through these crisis situations. So the question (yes, another one!) is: what are we doing to refill the tank with hope, encouragement and nourishment to continue the fight?

We have to make sure we are not leading and doing the work from an empty place. It is very important for us to take time to feed our own souls – that might be taking time off, meditating or praying more often, leveraging mental health and mindful wellbeing resources (e.g., Employee Assistance Program, other therapy options, physical activity). The food we feed our empty soul can help us to take a step away.

At Spotify, our Heart & Soul team has been supporting the BIPOC community with curated resources and tools to cope with these traumatic events. Sometimes it sounds easier said than done, but it’s important to give room for good mental wellbeing practices to exist in your life.

The second part is something I asked the Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging team a few weeks ago. The base of the question was related to the work we are doing, since while it might be noble and good, however, I was eager for us, as a team, to discuss whether it’s the right work/focus for where the organization is right now.

Let’s be real, it might take our lifetime and the generations to come to see full equity and parity in this work. We can’t boil the ocean all at once. Instead we need to be strategic, thoughtful and realistic in our objectives – making sure we can measure and identify the progress made. That said, let’s not forget that progress is still movement and no matter how small, it is still moving us forward. Lives are being changed, underrepresented voices are being amplified, and impact is still being made!

Let me give you an example: awareness, education and training. Cultural awareness is one of the most profound avenues to take in inclusion. One of the more effective vehicles I have seen in this space is experiential programs and employee resource groups. They help remove some of the barriers of entry to learning and desire for more understanding. So when prioritizing it makes sense to lead with this approach, and accompany it with an effective training plan. This two pronged and prioritized approach is how we will move closer to the application and behavioral change that we’re aiming for.

But that’s also key – application and behavioural change has to be a clear goal when developing a learning strategy and is absolutely why I posed the question to the team. At times, it can be so easy to push training programs as a reaction to current events but without a connection to the purpose of learning. We have to be intentional about the learning process and the content – each should build off the other. In a nutshell, Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging strategies must be developed to work hand-in-hand with L&D strategies and the learning culture of the organisation. In fact, the intentional way we show up as a company should be fully embedded into every component of the employee life cycle.

Having a holistic strategy that has a path of development and ability to be measured over time is how to work with Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging. Our team will admit we haven’t always gotten it right. We have, however, been intentional about expanding the learning capability of Spotifiers and introducing new topics, concepts and information that supports an inclusive culture and we do have some room to grow when it comes to that holistic plan I mentioned before.

When I asked that original question to the team, we did identify some gaps related to our approach for specific global territories. For example, the learning journey of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging looks different in Japan than it does in Brazil. We have to curate a plan that understands local cultural complexities, appreciates where the team is on their journey and is clear with relation to the appropriate inflection point that aligns to business impact. All in all, I feel good about the foundation we’ve established and the focus to build a framework that meets the appetite of our current company and what we evolve to be for the future need.

We are in the same boat, are we rowing in the same direction?

What has impressed me the most is the organizing that has happened around Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging among our global units and business units. Many Spotify teams have developed working groups, defined OKRs and development plans with our HR Business Partners to increase the efforts and subsequent impact. I love to see this type of energy and have no intention to slow the momentum down. That said, we have to consider whether with all these efforts we are moving forward together – pushing towards the mark in a unified way?

A few weekends ago, I heard a talk from a cultural icon, T.D. Jakes. He describes that all of us are in the same boat, even though it may not be the same need or experience, but all of us have a unique need and we must come together to row the boat towards our goal. But at times, we might miss this by just focusing on our own space or team.  We can get lost in the pursuit of progress, but every-so-often, we have to make sure we are still connected to the source. The source meaning the unified message, the unified vision and the purpose of our work. The journey to equity, inclusion and belonging will take all of us, coming together as one, to press towards the mark. When we are together, we can cover more space in the boat – rowing together – not losing sight of why we are doing this work. This question is important when developing a 360 degree strategy, one that connects the dots of all those individuals – for the enterprise and the localized team.

And, a few final questions. Have we allowed for grace to show itself up in our actions? Have we allowed for people to shift behaviors, now that they are made aware of potential gaps? Change doesn’t happen overnight, especially not when it’s in relation to human behavior and norms. We have to give individuals space to implement the actions and behavior changes, embed it in practices and identify ways to remove the systemic inequity. But, give grace for this to happen. I know this is not a popular opinion, as many expect the change to be like a light-switch. Yes, we all want to see meaningful change and progress to show up more immediately, but for sustained growth it can not be a reaction or the next press release for optics. Mistakes will happen, on both sides of the house, but how we respond and move forward through the mistakes will be key. A culture free from fear of making mistakes is what is important, dually so is one that learns from failures. Don’t get me wrong, we still need to ensure accountability and measured action on a regular basis – for behavioral change and a stronger inclusive culture. We have to be balanced in both.

Answering the questions

There are a lot of unanswered questions right now. We shouldn’t expect them to get answered overnight, and when we do feel we have an answer, there will certainly be another one (or more) popping up. That’s the nature of the beast. And that’s okay!

By not shying away from these questions, but giving pause for thought and continuing to challenge the status quo, we give curiosity and possibilities a fighting chance. As the Spotify Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging team reintroduces itself, I know there’s a big opportunity ahead of us. One that I know we are ready for!

2020 has been a year full of uncertainty, loss, anger and complexity that has shown up in different ways. And for many of us, we are still working through the mental fight for peace. But let’s all give hope a second chance. A chance that will transform who we are and how we show up in this world – for ourselves, for each other, and the generations to come. We can’t give up on the possibilities based on what we might see immediately in front of us — painted by social injustice, systemic inequity and barriers of entry.  We can’t get frozen in the size of the change that needs to happen. I won’t stop believing we can make a difference.

The sweet spot of real meaningful change happens when you couple that hope with application. We are laser-focused on translating the awareness, knowledge, passion, momentum and opportunity into action that can be realized for Spotifiers across the globe, but also those who experience who we are as a company in other ways.

The intentionality of our work will be long, require vulnerability and allow for mistakes. However, we will be steadfast in our resolve. Join me on this journey to see the work realized in who we are and how we show up.

With love, Travis.

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