Creating an inclusive tech workplace
Our world is going through a significant change in engaging with diversity and equality, leading to conflicted and messy conversations. At Obvious, we believe that to build products that work, we have to be representative of the audience that we are designing for. This look-see into how we build diversity and equality into our DNA includes efforts towards
  • encouraging inclusive language,
  • eliminating bias in hiring and pay scale,
  • being public by default, and
  • going beyond metrics.

Shifting from an organisation almost entirely staffed by men to one where women are in the majority, a close-knit workplace which avoids regional and linguistic silos, and a supportive community that values skill above all.

The dichotomy of 'diversity' and 'equality'

In our world today, conflicting realities are the norm.

Organisations have diversity and inclusion strategies, leadership buy-in and ongoing earnest efforts. But at the same time, some preferential treatment is rampant — such as the intake from the "elite institutions", an inside track to "people like us" and the "smoking bay" information channel. Other measures, like menstrual leave announcements, spark bitter word wars.

India has the lowest female workforce participation. The most educated women have to choose between work and having a family. And yet, data on gender-based pay disparity is not raising eyebrows.

On the one hand, Sustainable Development Goal 5 is regressing due to COVID-19. However, research shows women on company Boards boost the bottom line, and recently, the Indian IT industry has responded favourably.

The world is amid a massive change in engaging with equality, that is equal parts conflicted and messy. This is the dark teatime of the soul, for societies at large, and organisations within. At Obvious, we've navigated similar conflicts, and have tried to emerge out the other side. 

Towards becoming diverse and inclusive

In the beginning, in the lore of Obvious, there were three young urban men with shared values and privileges, who hired others just like them.

Building products at country scale, they realised that the opinions of those entirely unlike them were what made the products truly robust. Representation across genders, regions, languages, life experiences, age categories and more set them apart.

Translated: Diversity as a competitive advantage.

This realisation helps us embrace and emboss diversity into the Obvious DNA. Our current guardrails include:

Remote-first = inclusive first

We've jumped feet-first into becoming a remote organisation. As a result, a dozen of our people now work from other geographies. Remote mid-year unions and water-cooler chats perpetuate our sense of belonging. We've onboarded new people, shipped hardware, and empowered them to belong. For people leaving Obvious while living elsewhere, we close out their accounts on a handshake of trust.
Fair hiring practices
To eliminate bias in hiring, we ask that applicants don’t share pictures, name-drop institutions or share current compensation. Equal pay for equal work is a key tenet. Potential hires are assessed on skills and pegged to a specific level on our growth frameworkwhich translates to compensation levels. The levels are public within the organisation. This makes our compensation philosophy gender-, experience- and education-agnostic.
"Guys..." is so 2018

Watching for and calling out our non-inclusive language is a bot’s job, on Slack. We onboard new people by telling them that we don't ask intrusive questions. Small talk is not an opportunity to ferret out personal information with the intent to judge. No "Where are you from originally?" (Read: I want to make generalisations about you) or "What festivals do you celebrate?" (Read: This is me slyly trying to find out your religion and judge you). We're constantly adding to this list to make a safe workplace for all. 
Inclusion beyond metrics

Over the last eighteen months, we've gone from being entirely staffed by men to a women majority. A fifth of our leaders are women. We have intentionally fostered and been allies for communities including WomenDroid, PyLadies and HasGeek. This stems from our unshakeable belief in developing tech ecosystems to be equal and fairer. As we continue to amplify their good work, we move towards the long-term benefits of contributing to a more equitable workplace.

Despite good intentions, we will make and learn from our mistakes. Our people — often, those impacted — will call these out with shock and anger. We will feel uncomfortable or almost respond emotionally. But we will also accept our flaws, ensure that our goalposts shift in line with maturing systems, and invite more people to find solutions to fill these gaps and lead the charge.

The diversity and inclusion umbrella will keep expanding to include more tenets of equality, and we will continue to keep an open mind.

Rinse and repeat.

Book a one-on-one discussion
about D&I with the author, 
Monica Pillai,
Head – People Operations at Obvious.

Chat with Monica
We won a few awards! 
Fast Company
Obvious with RTSL and Nilenso
for Simple
Social Good category 
Institute of Indian Interior Designers
MYVN Architecture for Obvious HQ 
Commercial workplace (large) in Zone 1
Runner-up award at the National Level
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