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Encouraging Diversity as a ScrumMaster

I am a woman of color who did not grow up in this country. I realize that my own diversity of experience makes it easier for me to approach sensitive situations regarding diversity and inclusion. People often assume that I speak with authority because of my gender, color, or upbringing. I try to leverage this skill for the benefit of…

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December 13, 2017

I am a woman of color who did not grow up in this country. I realize that my own diversity of experience makes it easier for me to approach sensitive situations regarding diversity and inclusion. People often assume that I speak with authority because of my gender, color, or upbringing. I try to leverage this skill for the benefit of my team and my colleagues, and in this post, I’m sharing some of what I’ve learned with you.

Importance of Diversity and Inclusion

In my role, I deal with a variety of team challenges on a day-to-day basis. In addition to removing the usual blockers such as external dependencies, issues with environments, and fighting waterfall attitudes, as a ScrumMaster I strive to create a healthy environment for the team and boost team morale. And while many may often forget, encouraging diversity and inclusion on our teams is vital to the team’s success.

Let’s start with the basics. When we think of diversity, our first thoughts are usually about traits such as race, gender, and sexual orientation. But, while it is important to be aware of this inherent diversity in people, it just as important to be aware of acquired diversity such as geographical location, introversion/extroversion, language skills, etc.

We know that diversity is essential for an organization’s growth. In fact, Harvard Business Review has published a study proving diversity “unlocks innovation and drives market growth.” It encourages different perspectives and fosters open-mindedness among teammates. Simply put, diversity helps us learn, grow, and be more effective than we would be if we only worked with individuals who are just like us.

Encouraging Open Communication

So, how do we, as ScrumMasters, encourage diversity and inclusion on our teams?

  • Be an advocate – Talk to the team explicitly about these issues, make sure your team is aware that you are an advocate for diversity, and do what it takes to make them feel supported.
  • Facilitation techniques – While facilitating a meeting, make sure everyone has an opportunity to speak. Create space for open communication and healthy disagreement, and encourage the whole team to provide their opinion. Attempt to listen on multiple levels; pay close attention to the conversation and how the conversation flows. This may be easier to try with a co-facilitator, so you can observe while they facilitate.
  • Assume positive intent – It is important to assume that inappropriate statements or behaviors stem from ignorance, and not from maliciousness. If you have this attitude, and give your colleagues the benefit of the doubt, you will be able to coach your team members and educate them instead of penalizing them.
  • Impact feedback – Also known as the Situation-Behavior-Impact (SBI) model, this involves describing the S, the B, and the I of the situation to each other. Encourage your team to communicate their observations of the situation, the person’s behavior, and the impact it had. For example, they might say, “At the standup yesterday, when you talked over me, it made me feel disrespected and belittled.” This helps the offending team member understand how they have impacted other people, even if it is unintentional.
  • Raise awareness – It is crucial to understand and acknowledge your own biases, and then to be open to receiving feedback about them! Take every opportunity you can to raise awareness about diversity, different types of diversity, and how encouraging or discouraging diversity in the workplace can impact your team.
Take the first step

It is challenging, and often intimidating, to approach difficult situations regarding diversity and inclusion without appearing insensitive. But, I encourage everyone who reads this blog to take the initial step of speaking up if you see anything out of place or inappropriate, even if it is just to ask, “Are you okay?” or “Do you want to talk?” It will go a long way! A simple gesture of outreach can make a person in a difficult situation feel supported and that will help forge good relationships, which is a very important part of being an effective ScrumMaster!

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