Women & Inclusion: More Than a Metric

It used to be difficult to find a gathering of women in senior leadership, but not anymore.

The dramatic rise of organizations like Chief illustrates the opportunity to establish affinity spaces for women in the workplace.

Over the past few months, we’ve hosted sessions for women in leadership to discuss the hot topic ‘Inclusivity in the workplace.’ The women in our circles represent CPO, LD, HR, DEI professionals and more, with a common desire to lead well during turbulent times. Together, we’re sharing stories about creating intentional, safe communities at work, spaces our employees won’t want to leave.

At the end of each session, participants report that the highlight is simply coming together with other women leading in this moment in time. It reminds us that we are not alone.  We connect and grow as we share common struggles and triumphs. Here’s what women are saying:

“It’s great to discuss the topic of inclusion in a small, intimate session, and build connection and relationship with others;  loved the platform, the centering of voices and the connection”

“I always love hearing from like-minded women in similar roles”

“There’s space to come as we are, and the meaningful connections are so energizing”

Beyond this, as we reflect on participant contributions –  we’ve discovered some themes to share with you:  

  1. Women Care Uniquely About Inclusion

No matter our title and department, we’re discovering that as women, we all care about inclusion. As a gender we’re still forging our way, some days just pushing through imposter syndrome. To varying degrees, we’ve experienced what it’s like to navigate male-majority corporate spaces, striving to find a voice and be valued for the unique perspective we inherently contribute.

We’re still fighting to be seen for who we are–without gender filters–while pursuing women’s advancement initiatives, like equal pay for the same work. These circles have carved out space for honest dialogue about the challenges of working (and, for some of us, caregiving) while seeking to provide the most impactful professional development, sponsorship, and support to help women move into higher levels of leadership and onto corporate boards.

Together, we’re figuring out how to be included while being inclusive.

  1. Strategizing how to Influence Executives

One common bond we share is the struggle to gain executive buy-in on our quest for inclusion. On the journey to equitable workplaces, how do you revamp organizational cultures deeply embedded with generational norms?

We’re advocating for the intersectional inclusion of women across all levels of decision making, ultimately preparing more women for the C-suite. Meanwhile, if culture flows from the top down, how can we create more space for all to contribute to this important conversation – across gender lines – at the top of our organizations? 

Together, we’re strategizing how to alleviate fear of change, and foster an inclusive mindset across senior leadership.

  1. Intersectionality Intensifies our Attention to Inclusion

Intersectionality sometimes intensifies one’s experience of exclusion; the more marginalization you’ve experienced, the more easily you empathize with others and seek their inclusion. For some of us, our passion for inclusion reflects the intersectionality of our gender with our ethnicity, religion, cultural background and much more.

We’re celebrating the fact that many organizations began prioritizing hiring a Head of DEI or Culture, likely because of the pandemic and increased polarization We know and in some cases are the women in these roles–accordingly, we see or experience isolation while navigating systems that generally don’t support new ways of ‘doing the work.’

Furthermore, inclusion initiatives are some of the first cut when pandemics or recessions create economic uncertainty–just the time we need inclusion the most. Even when prioritized, inclusion initiatives can come across like another box to check, instead of as deeply personal, emotionally taxing work.

Together, we’re pondering how we can keep inclusion from being reduced to a metric.

  1. We’re Listening to our Teams

Across our organizations, we’re receiving feedback revealing that some of our people feel marginalized–like they’re simply a number without a voice–which we understand firsthand. Many of them feel overwhelmed and isolated in our remote working world, just like we do (and practically speaking, fostering conversations across silos remains critical).

Because as women we tend to care for everyone else, we’re left wondering: How do we support ourselves and our people?

  1. The Way Forward

As women leading and championing inclusivity initiatives, we aren’t just boxes to check. We’re part of the solution to culture change that the world needs. 

The goal of equitable workplace inclusion is a lifelong journey, and with the advent of these circles we’ve made strides in one significant facet: community on the journey. We’re sharing sparks of hope with one another as we see them in our organizations–here are some of the best inclusive practices we’re discovering together:

  • Engaging Men in the Conversation: Not surprisingly, in order to be truly inclusive, men need to be welcomed into these conversations.  Male allies who champion inclusive practices and make space for underrepresented voices help shift the traditional structures and impact lasting change in our organizations.
  • Employee Resource Groups (ERG’s): voluntary, employee-led groups whose aim is to foster a diverse, inclusive workplace aligned with the organizations they serve.
  • Story Exchanges–the practice of retelling someone else’s story in first person.
  • Connection Circles/World Event Gatherings–space to process the challenges facing the world to better understand, empathize, and facilitate proximity.

As we continue meeting together, we’re realizing just how much we need community to pursue the work of inclusion, ensuring hope for the future and less loneliness for us and our teams. We must find new ways to truly operate differently, to look beyond structures of the past and innovate human-centric, inclusive new strategies.

No longer are we satisfied to just talk about inclusion, diversity and equity – we want systems that transform organizational culture.  

Circles’ Response

At Circles, our experience listening, learning and participating in WIL circles reinvigorates us to continue creating spaces where people can connect and grow. Whether it’s fostering inclusivity by supporting DEI programs, creating community through onboarding and leadership development programs or connecting peer CEOs across communities, we’re committed to being a part of the inclusion solution. 
Do you have a strategy to create inclusive community across your organization? What opportunity is there for your programs to be enriched and scaled with Circl.es, a tool designed for human connection? Experience circles for yourself: [click here] to join an upcoming Women in Leadership Gathering, or connect with someone from our team to discover the possibilities.

Leaders Turn to Circl.es for Safe Employee Spaces

Karla Talley works in Learning & Development and DEI at Glassdoor, a company using Circles as their ‘work from anywhere’ strategy to foster connection and community in a scalable way. Her team has integrated Circles into multiple programs, including an ERG summit, in-depth Allyship training program and Connection Circles on world issues.

Safe by Design

Karla felt the platform was a safe space the moment she joined her first circle. I do not use the term “safe space” loosely–as a woman of color, I feel safe spaces are hard to come by. There is an immediate welcoming and safety that I feel comes with Circles, and that seems to be consistently stated by any of our colleagues joining a circle for the first time.”

What she experienced is by design: founders built the Circl.es platform with belonging and inclusion in mind, including built-in features like timers preserving equal talk time, hand raises to limit interruptions and a random-order generator to signal who speaks when. Karla noticed: “The features keep people from cutting in and talking over each other. The result is extra space for everyone to process and engage in a way that is most helpful for them. Also, who doesn’t love the hugs?” She’s referring to another popular feature–participants can virtually circle around a team member for a ‘hug’, or press ‘c’ on their keyboard to celebrate with a shower of onscreen confetti.

Circles for Remote Work Community

Glassdoor first tried launching ERG breakout groups back in 2020 when work went remote; the gatherings worked for a while before fizzling out. A year later, head of DEI Stephanie Felix integrated Circ.es into the gatherings while rebranding and rebooting the experience. “In a company that is majority culture, we wanted to create space for safe conversations regarding identity, culture, and belonging. Our aim was to provide intentional space for meaningful conversations around intersectionality.”

“In a company that is majority culture, we wanted to create space for safe conversations regarding identity, culture, and belonging. Our aim was to provide intentional space for meaningful conversations around intersectionality.”

At a time when employee connections had dwindled down to their immediate teams, organizing them into cross-department breakouts gave everyone the chance to interact with colleagues they wouldn’t normally talk to everyday. Attendance was high, and the circles integration proved to be just what the experience needed to succeed. 

Allyship Program

After the success of the ERG breakout circles, Glassdoor used circles with an Evolution curriculum to develop Journey Lead, an experience to train up allies. Karla noticed social learning happening in the circles, as people grew in active listening and moved from defensive to curious. “People are not only learning about identity and privilege; they’re learning through interacting with one another in circles how to sit back and give someone else space to talk.” 

Karla emphasized that circles were an especially protected space for allyship training–she’s heard multiple people use the word ‘safe’ without hesitation to describe the experience. “It’s been a space for people to ‘go there,’ and know that they are being supported and heard by everyone.”

Space During Crisis

The platform also provided a place for processing crisis when war broke out in Europe. With a global team dispersed throughout the U.S., London, Dublin and more, several Glassdoor employees formerly lived in Russia, or had personal ties to Russia and/or Ukraine. Using circles, leaders facilitated optional Connection Circles process conversations; facilitators had an agenda, but focused on providing space for people to share feelings and hear actionable relief opportunities from around the world.

Augmenting Cultural Values

Transparency and good people are two core Glassdoor core values, and Karla felt Circl.es elevated and activated both. “If Circl.es was going to impact something, it was going to elevate the goodness of our people–and it already is.” The people who have experienced Circl.es through the ERG breakouts, Ukraine processing groups or Allyship program are showing up for each other in new ways, and their vulnerable communication is proof of their trust in the platform.

In fact, Circl.es continues expanding throughout the organization. The people experience team used it during their first offsite of the year for a team building time. Karla noticed that “people feel really safe jumping on, whether it’s a fully facilitated and scripted convo or if we are meeting in circles to plan our next quarter.”

Unexpected Outcomes

The positive twin outcomes of connection and growth are undeniable at Glassdoor, with 97% of respondents indicating positive feedback about their experience. Some participants shared that circles helps them engage in conversations they can’t even have with family and friends. Karla marveled: “I have learned so much about my co-workers, and I’ve been working at GD for almost a year!” She attributes the connection and growth in part to the unique circles design, saying: “The majority of our team was crying with happy and sad tears.  I don’t think that people would have done that on another platform.” 

“The majority of our team was crying with happy and sad tears.  I don’t think that people would have done that on another platform.”