What Agile gets wrong about DE&I

I was recently introduced to an incredible study about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Agile by the Business Agility Institute based on interviews and surveys with over 400 agile organizations. The report takes an academic approach to outlining critical concepts that we likely all think we know and may be blurring the lines between. And most importantly challenges that unless DE&I is explicitly part of your Agile ways of working, we are likely continuing the same patterns of exclusion and inequality.

Agile values and DE&I efforts have much in common. But the study challenges that by assuming a focus on agile values will deliver on DE&I we are likely missing the key points that require the most intentionality. To start we need to identify the blind spots we have and examine not just what we look like as an organization but also look at the diverse needs of our customers.

This study takes the approach of challenging common assumptions in our existing belief structures in the agile community. I immediately thought of the scrum vs kanban debate that still dominates much of the process conversation.  While we have worked closely with the scrum community to bring together kanban and scrum practices, we have done this with a relatively small group of people that could be missing critically different perspectives. What would it look like if we reached outside of the usual agile spaces to hear from developers, students, leaders?

The breakdown of specific language and definition really resonated with me. For ProKanban.org, I believe that we have put most of our focus on Diversity and Inclusivity and not enough focus on Equality.  And as the report points out- Equality isn’t the same as Equity.

Equality and Equity
Artist: Angus Maguire

“Equity in an organizational context refers to the creation of an environment where the individual and unique needs of every team member are met, allowing all to reach equal levels of success. Equality, by contrast, is defined as the state of being equal in status, rights, and opportunities.”

When we first founded ProKanban our goal was to create an inclusive organization where anyone interested in flow, regardless of background or level of experience, could come together to learn from each other and be respected for their contributions. We have put in place programs to focus on the diversity of our community, including scholarships and sponsorship of events around the world. But I will be honest, we have work to do.

We need to bring more focus to Equity.  I believe this means making courses and assessment pricing varied or even a pay-what-you-can model.  We need to explore how to help bring educational opportunities to underserved communities and places that may not have access to the tools and resources we often take for granted.  This may mean schools, libraries and government programs that create opportunities for people looking to change fields or roles. 

Equity for us may also mean connecting with different methods of access than we are used to. While we have focused on different language options, we need better accessibility for those with disabilities who may not be able to participate in our course, take our assessments or engage in our Slack community.  This could mean offering courses for those who may be visually impared or adjusting how we talk about “making the work visible.”

Agile Transformation Outcomes
Incorporating DE&I Outcomes
Credit: Business Agility Institute

Representation in our community matters.  It will continue to be a driving force in how we operate but it cannot be the reflection of just one person’s perspective of what diversity, equity, and inclusion looks like. We need more of your voices about what this means to ProKanban.org. 

“These approaches are often designed by long-term industry professionals, who are established and hold a measure of power. As a result, many of these approaches have not been explicitly designed with diversity, equity, and inclusion in mind, or with the input of diverse and marginalized people.”

This is my invitation to each of you to join us.  Help us create an organization that you are proud to be a part of, that reflects who you are and honors what you offer. And just happens to also be agile.

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