…and what we’re doing to build more diverse teams

We started Obvious six years ago and have since grown to a team of 20+ deeply-skilled craftspeople interested in design, technology, people and the intersection between these three. But there was a problem. Right from the get-go, our founding team was entirely male and between the ages of 25 and 30.

 

We know that we live and work in a world where certain groups are underrepresented in most spheres of work. In the design and technology space in India, most organisations are largely homogeneous entities with people whose experiences of life are by and large the same. Under representation is most visible in terms of gender, sexuality, disability and caste. We’ve been thinking about this, and about the ways in which we can change the status quo in our workplace.

 

We strongly believe that the strongest solutions (from technology and design perspectives) are made when a diversity of voices, opinions and perspectives are brought to bear on problems that our clients hire us to solve. We’ve learnt this from many (often disturbing) examples. Take for example ‘The Problem of the Abusive Ex’ —examples here and here. This is a prime example of what happens when technology solutions are designed primarily by people with a similar set of life experiences. There is also Inadvertent Algorithmic Cruelty, where even a well-intentioned product feature can lead to a situation of emotional distress for users (an idea from Eric Mayer who later wrote a book on the topic which you’re welcome to borrow from our library).

 

We need to be more diverse, not just because it makes business sense, but also because it makes us a better company. We’ve made some baby-steps towards a more inclusive work space. We wanted to share some of the progress we’ve made with you. If you’re from an underrepresented group, you can a) see what it might be like to work here, and b) exhort us to do better — we’re always open to suggestions and criticism. We try and do our best even though we work within the limits that exist for a small, self-funded company.

 

We’ve started work on changing our organisational DNA. Some of the things we have put in place are:

 

Paid Menstrual Leave

Following our compatriots Nilenso, we have adopted (read: wholesale stolen) a no-questions-asked menstrual leave policy.

 

Family health insurance which covers your spouse, and up to two children

While our health insurance is fairly comprehensive, we’re still trying to find a provider that covers domestic partners as well as mental health expenses.

 

Sane working hours, which allow for a life outside the office

Women all over the world work two jobs — one at the workplace, and another at home with household chores. We cannot change structural attitudes and practices that are deeply entrenched in society, of course, but we adhere to strict 40-hour working weeks. We do not penalise people who aren’t able to devote the entirety of their lives to writing code.

 

No late-evening events

The ability to travel safely and without hassle is heavily gendered. Transport for women is more expensive and far less safe. We try and ensure that our days end at consistent times. We don’t organise meetings and work events late in the evenings, taking care to ensure that nobody is excluded from valuable networking and career-building opportunities.

 

Paid Parental Leave

We were very pleased to discover that India has one of the more progressive maternity leave laws in the world. Mothers can take 26 weeks of leave after the birth of their child. We believe that fathers (and partners) should participate in the labour around…labour, and offer 12 weeks of paid paternity leave as well.

 

Clear policies on discrimination and sexual harassment, plus regular refresher workshops

Despite laws requiring all organisations in India with more than ten employees to set up a committee to address complaints about sexual harassment, implementation remains an uphill task. We have an independent committee whose decisions are mandatory to be accepted by management, backed by Parity Consulting, who serve as the external member on our ICC.

We make our clients aware that they are also covered by our prevention of sexual harassment guidelines, and build termination clauses into our contracts that would automatically trigger in the event of any reported sexual harassment.

 

Sponsoring community events (PyLadies and HasGeek)

If you’re running an event or a community that works with under-represented groups, you’re welcome to use our space (as PyLadies BLR has been). We work with HasGeek (an organisation we deeply respect) to build more diversity into their conferences. Their CEO, Zainab Bawa goes into more detail on their efforts here, here and here.

Many of us, including all three of our founders (Dhruv, Pratul and I) spend time meeting and mentoring people at the beginning of their careers. We try to make sure our time is available for people who are underrepresented.

 

Physical spaces
  • We’ve learnt from colleagues, friends and partners that work spaces often stigmatise menstruation. We know that something as simple as stocking menstrual supplies is not yet common sense. Learning from this, we make sure to stock necessary menstrual supplies in our bathrooms for free, and we hope this makes our workplace more welcoming.
  • Everyone comes in different shapes and sizes. We’ve put in considerable effort and expense to ensure that everyone in the office has ergonomic, height-adjustable furniture, allowing for a workspace which everyone can adapt to themselves.
  • We were not surprised to find that office temperatures are benchmarked against the metabolic rates of an average (wait for it) man, leading to uncomfortable working conditions for most female employees. An awareness of these gendered biases which have been codified into “standards” allows us to avoid them, and helps us create an office space which is more productive.

 

Which brings us back to what we wanted to talk about: if this is a workplace where you would like to be, please do write in. We’re looking for product designers, researchers, illustrators and developers for mobile devices and the web.

We do interesting work, with almost all the household name startups in India. This year, nearly 60% of our work will be openly-licensed (we’ll write about our open-source work soon on our website). We care deeply about our craft and the context in which our work will be used. Our work reaches hundreds of millions of people every month, and we sweat the details.

Write in to me, send me a DM on twitter, or drop by into our sunny Central Bangalore office. We’d love to work together.

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