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Inclusion Session at TechEd Madrid 2011

Why did I attend?

Give it a go – why not, at least there is food and beer. These were my initial thoughts on attending the session entitled 


I mean, as a technology company, Lemongrass are driving innovation all the time, so that sounds relevant for me. We are always looking to design new products and services, so that sounds interesting and it involves “embracing inclusion”, that has to be a good thing – and if not, I can leave at 9 and not miss much of the evening in Madrid anyway.

The Panel Discussion

So the first part of the evening ticked the food and beer box, and the panel discussion was interesting, with a real eye opener being the comment that when a job was advertised by one of the panellists, there were over 300 male applicants and less than 10 female. Further inquiry found that other eligible women had not applied as they weren’t sure they could meet 100% of the requirements, where in the men’s case, applicants had applied even if they only met 80% of the requirements.

This sounds familiar as during our recruitment, we regularly receive many more applicants from men than women, and in fact for BASIS/Technical Architecture roles, we rarely see a CV that is not from a chap.

Take away number one

When we try and recruit the best, we might be missing talent who don’t apply because they don’t think they are good enough in the case of women. How can we tackle this? Ensure our adverts are written with inclusion in mind, and also, actively chase women techies in the community and ask them to apply – sounds like asking for a law suit!

There was a surprising degree of comment from the floor, and then this part of the evening was wound up and the workshop component kicked off. Having so far been sat on my own, I looked around to find the most diverse looking table to join, thinking with my inclusion hat on and wanting to hear as many points of view as possible. Turned out I sat down at a table where most of the people, although looking different, all worked in marketing for SAP – not quite as diverse as I was hoping, but it made for an interesting evening.

We were given a brief introduction into design lead thinking, which basically involved being asked to draw a chair. Having drawn a chair, it turned out that our customer didn’t really want a chair as they had asked for, but a comfortable place to rest – and hence really wanted a bed. The end result was the customer didn’t want to buy our chair, that was light weight and easy to fold for carrying round TechEd, but would have bought a bed.

Take-away number two

Even though you think you know what your customer wants, often, in your head, before even they do, it’s worth making them expand a bit on their request to make sure the solution you are putting together is really what they want. This is hard because often the customer isn’t interested at the outset in telling you more –“I’ve told you I want a chair, just draw me a chair!” Persevering at this point though might pay off as if you’re the only supplier that goes back with a bed when asked for a chair, you will either win, or look really silly.

This seemed to be the basis of design lead thinking, and we didn’t really go much further with this approach which I think is a shame as I’m sure it has a lot more to offer than the basics we picked up. However as we are all consultants or marketing people, a little knowledge was enough for us to confidently use a design lead thinking approach to solve our challenge.

Our group picked the challenge – HOW DO YOU BUILD AN ORGANISATION THAT IS SUPPORTIVE AND INCLUSIVE OF “NON-HIGH FLYERS”. Great debate then ensued about what constituted a “non-high flyer”, with some passionate input from people who felt this described them, even though they were clearly very successful in their field.

At this point my feeling is we could have done with more coaching on the design lead thinking aspect, as being a bunch of consultants, we immediately tried to produce solutions. I also felt we could have applied the principals of inclusion within our group a bit better to ensure all voices were heard and all opinions given an even weighting.

The outcome however was impressive, with a number of policies proposed that included flexible working to support an alternative career choice, non-financial rewards to encourage contribution from all and clear linking of performance with roles.

Take-away number three

The outcomes weren’t important, the way we got there was, and I think the session was a great way of demonstrating that.


A great fun session, that should get more attention within the TechEd format somehow, potentially with “mainstream” pods to tackle some of the softer sides of the SAP industry.

I met some great people, and heard some ideas that were different from my own, and were all the better for that.

I would recommend these sessions to anyone, so if you’re considering them at the next TechEd in 2012, I’ll see you there!


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      Author's profile photo Marilyn Pratt
      Marilyn Pratt
      Re: Your first take-away:
      "Ensure our adverts are written with inclusion in mind, and also, actively chase women techies in the community and ask them to apply - sounds like asking for a law suit!"
      Wow.  How do we change the language of adverts to encourage women to believe that they are suitable candidates?  I don't have the answer to this one but it sure provokes some thinking.  Is it education of the women in how to read an advert?  Some would like to think so. Is it finding a language that opens doors of possiblity?  Might the simple answer be: get a women to write the copy (meaning the wording of the job posting). 
      Thanks for your summary, your participation and also for the excellent comments you voiced in the TechEd Live TV Video found here
      Author's profile photo Tom Van Doorslaer
      Tom Van Doorslaer
      I read an article lately on the different attitudes that men and women have in enterprises. Where men are more competitive and individualists, women are better team players.

      If you take an average job posting however, they always focus on the individual skills rather than on the coöperation skills.

      putting in a healthy mix of collaboration skills and individual skills might be a first step in including talented people.
      The idea you suggest to have women write the job adverts also makes sense, but only if they have a certain autonomy to select the needed skills and are not too dependent on the input of the requesting team lead.

      Author's profile photo Martin English
      Martin English
      I also attended the Madrid Inclusion event, and I wan to thank Marilyn and everyone else involved for their efforts in pushing this; both as a general issue of exclusion of minorities, and more personally as the father of a daughter interested in lego and computers.

      I think the the most important step is recognition of the issue.  I bought this up at the event, where I said that for a long time I didn't believe dicrimination existed in our industry, especially the technical side, becuase a) employers couldn't afford to ignore skilled and talented people, and b) programming is so objective - either it works or it doesn't, and is produced in a timely manner or not.  Of course this was very naive thinking; it is so easy 'arrange things' so that certain groups of people are excluded, or are given a reduced opportunity to participate. However, I can understand why many people give preference to others like themselves; it must be a great comfort to discuss something and have everyone agree with you (because they come from the same background and they think as you do). Another, perhaps more brutal, perspective is that some primitive tribes used the same words or sounds for Stranger as they did for Enemy.

      The problem is that a limited view of the world will produce a limited range of options and suggestions when you come up against a problem; You and ten clones (with the same experiences as yourself) won't produce many more suggestions or answers than you would by yourself. By contrast, a "White Anglo Saxon Protestant" such as myself will look at the requirement for a comfortable chair (to take the example used at the workshop) quite differently to a mother of young children who, in turn, would design it differently depending on whether it was for her or her 1 year old.

      In other words, more (and quite possibly better) ideas result from more view points not from more people. Hopefully, as the benefits from this get recognised, and the dangers of complacency (me and my clones sitting around saying how wonderful we are) become more obvious, then there will be more emphasis on diversity.


      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      Warning - I will probably write a long answer.  Hopefully not too long.

      If you are a company - actively searching for women would involve a law suit.  I totally agree.  Now there is a BUT...

      But take a look at the questions you are asking when you are doing an interview.  What is important?  Is it all the technical skills?  Is it all the soft skills?  Is it communication?  What really are you looking for?  

      Now are those questions geared towards men or women.  There are differences.   We all know there are.  So were your interview questions written by all men?  A consulting group of all men?

      So are you activity searching for women only?  Would you hire a women who fit your job 80% over a man that fit your job 100%.  It goes back to what you are looking for.  Take the time to review some of those questions.  Ask yourself are they equal questions?  I found this part of your blog very interesting.

      Now a side point - we don't have to be looking for a law suit when we are looking for volunteer speakers, volunteers for events, volunteers for mentors, and more...   So to promote more women in the business does it hurt to go with someone who is 80% instead of 100% in times like that?

      I have a different perspective.  I looked at the general crowd at teched.  The percentage of women was still about 25% - that I could see!  It's huge and people are moving.  SO I basically looked around at the sessions I was at.  That's a problem.  Women speakers, well you can count them.  There were not very many.  That is kind of depressing.

      Granted I have a different life than most women, I have a husband who is a stay at home Dad.  So I get more opportunities to go to these events.

      I think encouragement is the key.  I just came back from speaking at a college last night.  I looked at the class.  It was about 50% ladies.  I asked who hated SAP and who loved it.  I held up my hand for both statements.  Can you guess? The guys liked it more.  Go figure!

      Summary - I think the interview questions should be looked at.


      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      Thanks for jumping in and writing your first blog. I recall when you were still deciding to stay or go, so I am glad you stayed (disclaimer: Ian and I were in the same group). You are right that a big lesson from the session was the interaction  and the process of inclusion and reaching agreements. One lesson - once everyone is invited to participate and knows they are in a safe environment to do so, you can't force them to - but you have to invite them to do so as often as you feel they are comfortable. I hope everyone eventually felt heard in our group. I do lament that the Design Thinking handout on the tables appears so rich and full of information and we did not get to dig into it. Even if its not actively used, but its a take-away that we look at later, more focus could be put on the materials. We can make sure this input goes into planning for 2012. Looking forward to hearing more from you in future blogs. Cheers!