Features, Insight, Opinion

How To Build A Community For Change

By Allyson Kouao, Associate Solution Architect at Red Hat.

Ada Lovelace Day, which is celebrated every year in October, is always a welcome moment to remind ourselves there is still a lot to do to leverage women working in technology. The timing may be coincidental, but it should also prompt us to look at diversity in all its guises; because true progress is when we leverage all groups.

As a black woman working in technology, I have discovered the impact of community efforts on both fronts. By bringing people with shared and disparate interests together, progress can be made further, and faster.

Here are my top ten tips for others looking to build a community.

See what else exists

You are never completely alone. Look around your organisation and sector to see what other communities are already out there that you can buddy with, be supported and learn from. In my case, there was already a global B.U.I.L.D. community out of the US, the first employee-led movement at Red Hat to organise around creating leadership opportunities and career pathways for black colleagues. Not only did their brand equity open up doors for me; they remain a constant source of advice.

Articulate the opportunity

Sometimes, it’s obvious a problem exists. There is no shortage of diversity and inclusion research, and most large organisations are now legally required to report on their own progress. That said, some people can find numbers too abstract and easy to overlook. Nothing hits home like a real-life story. Find these, and amplify them.

Start small, build slow

Sustainable change is best done from the bottom up. So don’t rush it. Build your army of advocates, conversation by conversation. For one thing, it’ll allow you to gauge interest levels. But more importantly, people who feel marginalised may be reluctant to join formal groups.

Welcome everyone

The journey to inclusion is a team effort – not solely that of the underrepresented group – as we continuously work on becoming more knowledgeable versions of ourselves. Inclusive language is very important, so much so that our community chapter mentions the intended audience – minority associates and allies.

Propel underrepresented voices into the spotlight

Within a community, it’s important that everyone’s voice is heard, and everyone has a say in decisions. That is the essence of the inclusivity that most workplace communities want to foster.

Balance out the heavy

Even if change is the name of the game for your community, don’t let it override enjoyment. Celebration is important too as a powerful motivation technique. Any manager will tell you that people having fun are more engaged and productive. The same goes for a community.

Don’t obsess over end goals

A vision for the future is inspiring; defining an end-state rarely is. For starters, end-states usually mean numbers, which can feel abstract and a bit random. Objectives can be subjective too. What may be important to your community now could be superseded next year. So anchoring yourself to a set of targets may limit your freedom to move in new directions.

Make the commercial case

Workplace communities are an integral part of employee welfare, and so critical to productivity and profitability too. Find the proof points that make your community a compelling business case, and present it like any other investment opportunity.

It’s OK to go

There are too many organisations that understand the power of communities to hang around at one that doesn’t. I have been fortunate to start my career at Red Hat. Our entire business model is predicated on communities. Friends elsewhere are not so lucky. It seems that some organisations demand that a community comes with a lot of administration and hoop-jumping. Being part of an organisation that recognises everyone’s needs and celebrates all our differences has come to feel like a non-negotiable.

Be kind to yourself

If your community falls short of your expectations, that’s ok. You haven’t let anybody down. And maybe you’ve learned how to do things better next time. Beyond that, there’s the personal triumph to take away—that you did something for others. In a world where empathy and emotional intelligence are increasingly being seen as hallmarks of future leaders, the experience will stand you in great stead.

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