Why diversity and inclusivity are essential and how we manifest it within Story of AMS

During the first weekend of August, Amsterdam is home to the Amsterdam Gay Pride. The festival attracts several hundred thousand visitors each year and is one of the largest publicly held annual events in the Netherlands. 

An event where we celebrate that it is okay to be who you are and love the one you want. Grateful to live in a world where we’re all different and at the same time can be united as one. 

It's now more important than ever to encourage inclusivity and diversity. We're lucky to live in a time where these types of issues are acknowledged and accepted. Businesses and individuals are doing their bit to be inclusive and encourage diversity, but what do these terms really mean? and what sort of impact do they have?

I always love to use little stories or quotes to explain things because, in the same way, a picture is worth a thousand words, quotes can communicate and simplify a tremendous amount of wisdom in just a few words. 

Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.  - Verna Myers

If you really want to foster an inclusive culture, you need to ask people to dance and make them feel safe enough to step on that dance floor. 

That’s why many experts agree that you need to become inclusive before starting to attract a diverse group of talent. First inclusion, then diversity. 

If you invite everybody to the party but no-one is allowed to dance, they won’t feel they belong to your company. They can come to the playground but aren’t allowed to play.  

One of our core values is community. We want to build and foster a vibe where everybody does feel included and part of something bigger. Integrating interests and putting aside differences to be individually and collectively obsessed with what's good for the company. Taking responsibility for your own actions and the actions of the team and holding others to this standard is critical for us to be able to trust and work with each other. Therefore, nobody within Story of AMS owns the culture. Every single one of us is the culture. Therefore you ought to model the behavior you would like to see yourself. 

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Diversity as a team means bringing different perspectives together. Inclusive means that everyone in the team feels psychologically safe. Using the analogy from before, that people feel comfortable enough to dance without having to hide a part of their identity. 

Celebrate differences. Don’t make fun of them. 

But how? 

As said before, start with fostering an inclusive culture. We’ve written down 5 principles that guide our behavior and help maintain our community.

1. Celebrate the team, praise the individual

Win as a team. It’s amazing what can be accomplished if you don’t care who gets the credit.  

Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results. 

2. Listen with your full and undivided attention 

Listening to what others have to say is a mark of respect. Invest yourself in the person communicating with you, get behind their eyeballs and discover what they are thinking. By doing so you will understand them and they will feel understood. And a person who feels understood is a person who listens when it's your turn to speak. 

The biggest communication problem is we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply. 

 - Stephen R. Covey

3. Effective decision making over consensus 

Strive for a politics-free environment and get rid of democracy. Strive for the best idea, not consensus. The goal of consensus leads to 'group-think' and inferior decisions. The way to get the best idea is to get all the ideas and opinions out in the open, on the table for the group to discuss. Air the problem honestly, and make sure people have the opportunity to provide their authentic opinions, especially if they are dissenting. If you have the right conversations, eight out of ten times people will reach the best conclusion on their own. The other two times the team leader needs to make the hard decision and expect that everyone will rally around it. 

In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing. 

- Theodore Roosevelt

4. Be coachable 

The traits of coachability are honesty and humility, the willingness to persevere and work hard, and a constant openness to learning. Honesty and humility because a successful coaching relationship requires a high degree of vulnerability, much more than in a typical business relationship. Coaches need to learn how self-aware a coachee is; they need to not only understand the coachee's strengths and weaknesses but also understand how well the coachee understands his or her own strengths and weaknesses. Where are they honest with themselves, and where are their blind spots. Then it is the coach's job to raise that self-awareness further and to help them see the flaws they don't see for themselves. People don't like to talk about these flaws, which is why honesty and humility are so important. If people can't be honest with themselves and their coach, and if they aren't humble enough to recognise how they aren't perfect, they won't get far in the relationship. 

The coachable people are the ones who can see that they are part of something bigger than themselves.

My best skill was that I was coachable. I was a sponge and aggressive to learn.

- Michael Jordan

5. Champion intellectual development

Create a learning culture by fostering a workplace that rewards constant learning and skill development. Look for ways to increase your ability to add value. The growth of our company is directly proportional to the growth of our people. 

“We have to go from what is essentially an industrial model of education, a manufacturing model, which is based on linearity and conformity and batching people. We have to move to a model that is based more on principles of agriculture. We have to recognise that human flourishing is not a mechanical process; it’s an organic process. And you cannot predict the outcome of human development. All you can do, like a farmer, is create the conditions under which they will begin to flourish.”

- Ken Robinson

Diversity, where do you start? 

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With your hiring process. Most companies use quotas mainly focused on gender, ethnicity, and nationality. We agree it is important for many reasons to have a diverse group of people, we tend to disagree with the common means of how to arrive at such a group. 

Our advice is to get rid of quotas. Instead, focus on optimising your hiring process doing two things: 

  1. Incorporate steps that have the highest future performance prediction value
  2. Bring hiring bias to a minimum

Our process is still far from perfect but it did lead to a highly diverse group without deliberately looking for a certain demographic profile. Instead, we focus on finding the person who is most likely to succeed in the job to be done. 

It’s quite simple and relatively easy to implement. 

  1. We start with a phone screening making sure the basic boxes are checked as to not waste anyone's time. 
  2. Followed by a structured interview where we ask the candidate a predetermined set of questions as to remove the interviewer’s bias and to assess for culture fit. By looking at the things we value in a team member, self-awareness, open-mindedness, common sense, and a can-do attitude. Followed by 10 questions designed to assess for these traits. After the interview, the hiring manager fills in a scorecard with a 4-point scale based on the traits we are looking for.
  3. A test case to assess on what skill level the candidate is and how they interpret a project brief. Note that the people who check the assignment were not part of the 1st interview to remove bias.
  4. A second interview where the interviewer goes through the test case and again asks a predetermined set of questions based on the job role and skill set required. This is not the same person as from the 1st interview, again to remove bias. 

After the second interview, all ‘ratings’ are put next to each other and then it’s basically a yes or a no. 

To sum up

Start with creating an inclusive environment. Then arrange your business processes so that there is a focus on finding and on-boarding the right people for the right job. Naturally, you will end up with a diverse group of talented people. 

The 5 principles we use to guide our behavior, in line with the 4 core values of Story of AMS (these are for insiders only) are: 

  1. Celebrate the team, praise the individual 
  2. Listen with your full and undivided attention
  3. Effective decision making over consensus 
  4. Be coachable
  5. Champion intellectual development

Final thoughts 

I genuinely believe that we can change the course of the industry. Thanks to technology, education is already becoming commoditised so anybody with a connection to the internet can learn almost any skill they want. 

Then it is up to industry leaders to create the right environment for people to discover and develop their talent, in an open and diverse setting.