Changing Group Behavior with Small Actions - Inclusion Thing of the Week

January 16th, 2018

This post was originally prepared at and for the Pivotal Tracker Team in Denver, CO. It appears on the Pivotal Tracker blog.

It got picked up by Better Male Allies on Twitter and Medium as well.

Combating bias and promoting inclusion in the workplace is something we can all agree needs to happen. The question, then, is how?

The way I see it, there are two directions from which change can come: from the top, or from the bottom. Changes from the top come in the form of new HR policies, training, or declarations for more diversity and inclusion work (all of which Pivotal is already doing). Changes from the bottom are a change in culture and a realization that every interaction matters.

What is Thing of the Week?

With that in mind, here on the Tracker team in Denver, we've been participating in Thing of the Week. The goal of Thing of the Week is to make reinforcing an environment of inclusivity a motive of the group, not a task of the affected individuals. We do this by having members of the group change how they interact in some very specific way.

For example, a member of the team brought up the fact that using the word 'guy(s)' as a stand in for a general 'person' can make them feel excluded. Without questioning the fact that this person felt the way they did, we decided to make the first thing of the week "Use something other than 'guys.' Try y'all, everyone, friends, romans, countrypeople!"

The important parts of Thing of the Week

It's significant that the facilitator of Thing of the Week not be a minority of the group. Having a majority member facilitate Thing of the Week removes the burden that usually falls on impacted individuals1 confronting bias, models what good behavior looks like, and moreover, having a person of the majority (read: power) advocate for those in the minority is a very effective way to create change2.

On another level, Thing of the Week is impactful not just because of the things the group works on, but because it makes diversity and inclusion a topic of discussion. At Pivotal Tracker I announce Thing of the Week every morning at standup, and by doing so, signal that this is a topic everyone should be involved in.

After a few Things of the Week, we decided to take some time for reflection and to think about questions like Was this helpful? Did this make you feel more included? Was this easy?

A few examples of Thing of the Week

  • guys -> y'all, everyone, friends!
  • genderless pronouns for software components
  • be aware of how often you hear someone being interrupted
  • who do you assume has the information when you're talking to a pair?

How to try this with your team

The formula for creating a Thing of the Week is pretty straightforward:

  1. Ask your team about everyday interactions that make them feel excluded
  2. Record those interactions for later and choose one to tackle
  3. Find a solution to the problem and provide out of the box solutions
  4. Make it a responsibility of the group to address that problem for one week, and remind the group every day about what the problem is, why it's important to address, and the solutions you've suggested

I announce the Thing of the Week every day at standup and put a tab in our build monitor so that it's present throughout the day.

As mentioned above, Thing of the Week is most effective when it's championed by a member of the group majority. On our team, the majority group is white men. Additionally, make sure Thing of the Week is consistent and daily. A large part of the impact comes from making sure inclusion is on everyone's mind.

Points against Thing of the Week

Change is hard

The most common critique of Thing of the Week in specific, and changing behavior in general, is that it's hard. It's hard to watch what you say and how you say it. It's hard to question your automatic reactions. It's hard to change.

There's no way around this. You can make it slightly easier, though, by providing simple, out of the box solutions to problems. As a coworker has said, "[H]umans are good at small changes that are so tiny we don't notice them."

At the end of the day, it's up to you whether or not the friction of watching your speech and actions are worth creating a more inclusive environment for everyone.

Thing of the Week makes change easier

Changing your behavior is hard. Changing the behavior of a group is even harder. Doing those things by yourself is super mega hard. Thing of the Week gives everyone a venue to express the ways they feel excluded and an avenue to address those exclusions.

  1. Very often the people most affected by bias and discrimination are the minorities of the group. They're the ones advocating for the elimination of that bias because they feel it most. This creates a double burden because they must 1. deal with the bias and 2. work towards its elimination.↩︎

  2. This is typically called "being an ally." See for some good info.↩︎

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