DEI Update: Looking Back on 2021 and Powering Ahead to 2022
By: Kate Wilkinson
Despite the turbulence we all experienced in 2021, I’m happy to share that VMware’s Office of the CTO (OCTO) made major headway on our DEI goals, which I covered at the end of 2020 in this blog. In today’s post, I’ll share the results, as well as our major DEI focuses for 2022.
As a quick review, our 2021 DEI themes included:
- Championing DEI everywhere
- Celebrating our own diversity
- Building stronger teams
Here’s how we did.
2021 Year in Review
Theme #1: Championing DEI everywhere
We emphasized in 2020 that we wanted DEI to be part of everything we do, so we made sure it was a central part of our communications via OCTO blog posts, our internal OCTO “Town Hall” meetings and other communications.
OCTO employees also promoted DEI sessions and presentations in our large company events, such as our internal R&D conference and VMworld, where we saw the highest number of DEI-focused tracks we’ve ever had. These talks featured diverse panelists and speakers from all over the globe. We also partnered with our Security Business Unit to host a fireside chat with award-winning journalist and author Samantha Walravens.
OCTO representatives also attended the recruitment portion of major DEI-focused events — such as the AfroTech Conference, SHPE National Convention, and the Grace Hopper Celebration. VMware has had a presence at these conferences for many years, but this is the first year OCTO was able to attend many of them. We also attended numerous academic conferences and symposiums through the VMware Research Group. And many individuals in OCTO became active members of external groups, such as Women Who Code Bangalore and Out & Equal Workplace Advocate’s Leadership U for Humanity.
Theme #2: Celebrate our own diversity
While we were working hard to champion DEI outside of the company through various conferences and groups, we also made sure to celebrate the diversity and perspectives of our own employees.
We wanted to make sure we brought the mental-health conversation to the forefront, which has become especially vital during the COVID-19 pandemic. So we kicked off the year with a panel of OCTO leaders speaking openly about mental health and stress and how to support colleagues and loved ones who struggle with mental health. We followed up that session with an additional mental-health event, which featured members of OCTO and the OCTO Field Program. It was one of the best-attended talks of the year!
We made sure to focus on all aspects of diversity. We kept in close communication with all our Power of Difference (POD) communities (VMware’s version of employee-resource groups) and promoted their events.
We also hosted a panel on neurodiversity to help us all learn more about neurodiverse individuals’ experiences and challenges, as well as how we can create a culture that includes and supports them. We encouraged everyone in OCTO to adopt new accessibility tools and templates and promoted ways to ensure that their presentations and other activities are accessible to our colleagues with disabilities. To support our hiring efforts and existing OCTO employees who are military veterans, we invited our Veterans POD to teach OCTO about the benefits of hiring veterans and active military members.
Theme #3: Build strong teams
Last year saw big shifts within OCTO. Many OCTO teams grew and restructured and their leaders wanted to ensure their teams were diverse, inclusive, and set up for success. In response, many teams in OCTO hosted listening sessions to hear from employees about what was working well and what could be improved. These sessions often did not include the team leader, in hopes that it would encourage a franker conversation. We passed on the feedback to OCTO leaders, who created and began to implement action plans.
Some leaders went beyond these listening sessions to ensure that inclusion was core to their teams. For example, the Blockchain Group hosted numerous sessions focused on different elements of an inclusive environment — such as trust, vulnerability, and feedback — as well as social and unstructured employee mixers. These were particularly helpful for new hires who joined the company during the pandemic and may not have met any of their teammates in person. We hosted OCTO-wide networking events, where folks were randomly assigned to Zoom breakout rooms so they could meet and/or connect with colleagues from across the team. In an all-virtual environment, we found that these mixers were a simple way to strengthen team connections and ensure a feeling of inclusiveness.
All of these themes will continue in 2022. We will also add new focus areas to heighten the effectiveness of our DEI efforts throughout the company.
Looking ahead to 2022
Focus #1: Personal growth + accountability
This year, we’re aiming for all our OCTO colleagues to focus on how they can expand their perspectives and increase their understanding of DEI topics. We’re asking everyone to set a DEI-focused personal-development goal that aligns to our overarching OCTO initiatives championed by our CTO, Kit Colbert. These goals may include joining a POD or attending external DEI events every quarter.
We hope that these goals will encourage everyone to make room on their schedules to broaden their horizons and encourage new ways of thinking. We also hope that the exercise will help everyone identify their roles in our joint DEI journey and understand how we’re all accountable for our success.
Focus #2: Actions, not just words
When we talk about DEI, we often use broad, macro-level language focused on wide groups of people. But we often overlook the fact that our words, actions, and decisions immediately impact the atmosphere of inclusion (or lack thereof) and the feeling of belonging on a team. This year, we’re committed to acting first — through our leadership commitments, goals, and programs — and speaking later.
Starting in 2020, we asked the OCTO leadership team to develop DEI goals for themselves and for their teams. We will continue that practice in 2022, with even more emphasis on the actions that make a genuine impact. We expect all managers to get involved with DEI efforts. Their support is vital and often one of the biggest predictors of change.
We’re also rolling out action-focused programs, such as a Bystander Intervention training that will launch within the next few weeks. This training will focus on the various parts of bystander intervention, including the science of intervening, how to evaluate situations, and ideas for more indirect intervention.
Focus #3: Strength in numbers
OCTO is part of our larger R&D organization (called Product, Cloud, Services, or PCS). We want to ensure that we spread our message to all of PCS. To that end, we will be working with all PCS teams and leaders to offer support, resources, and the innovative thinking OCTO is known for. We understand how vital it is to educate and support everyone’s efforts, so we plan to regularly share best practices and collaborate on events and programs. By expanding our DEI reach beyond OCTO and supporting other teams in their efforts, we will be able to see significant change, not just in R&D, but for VMware overall. As we did in 2021, we will continue to ensure that DEI is woven into all OCTO-sponsored events by including diverse speakers and panelists, encouraging the creation of accessible content and activities, and including global worksites and remote employees.
DEI efforts don’t revolve around any calendar year. So in 2022 (and beyond), we’ll continue to refine and improve our existing programs, brainstorm new ideas, and push one another to be the most supportive and inclusive teammates we can be.
If you’ve got any ideas on how we can improve our DEI efforts, feel free to share them in the comments. Happy new year!