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This is my third completely reworked draft of this post because it’s an important topic that potentially deeply affects many people and I want so desperately to get it right.

I attended the Community Leadership Summit this weekend, which is a sort of pre-conference event for community, open source, and developer relations professionals ahead of the OSCON (open source convention) conference in Portland, Oregon. It was fantastic to see how prominent the topic of “diversity and inclusion” was throughout the sessions, whether they were explicitly about diversity and inclusion or not. The reality is that this topic permeates everything when your work is primarily focused on people.

When Craig Cmehil approached me to take up the banner for a broader inclusion effort throughout the community, he started by asking me where I stand on diversity initiatives. I shared with him a post that I had written last International Women’s Day that might help lay the foundation of my thoughts on the subject. Ultimately, we need to do more and we need to take on tangible, meaningful initiatives to help make the world a safer, more welcoming place to exist in for marginalized groups.

What Are Diversity and Inclusion?

There is plenty of research available that shows how women, people of color, and other marginalized groups face an uphill battle when it comes to, well, life in this world. Whether it’s workplace discrimination (hiring, promotions, compensation, harassment, etc.), money lending discrimination, socioeconomic conditions (i.e. communities of color that experience lower financial support for schools, overcrowding, poor housing conditions, etc. which translate into higher drug use and crime rates), violence and discrimination from police, the public, and other government agencies, xenophobia, or just everyday microaggressions, we have a society that doesn’t work for a lot of people.

In the context of the SAP community, diversity and inclusion mean creating a psychologically safe place for all people to participate.

Why Does This Matter For Our Community?

Over the past two years, we’ve had a lot of discussions about critical community health topics, such as engagement rates, moderation policies, and diversity of community participation (i.e. who is participating, how much, where do they come from, what is their background, what percentage of our users are contributing and how?). Managing the blogging program has made me aware of many topic experts who do not feel empowered to share their knowledge right now because they are afraid to make a mistake and get blasted by others in the community. This fear of bullying doesn’t serve anyone and reduces the health and value of the community for everyone. It’s so bad that some people don’t feel like they have a right to post something or it’s not their place to report an abusive post. Instead, they defer to a small group of vocal experts in the hopes that they will do the right thing. This deference distills our community down to a very small subset of perspectives. It puts a massive burden on those vocal experts to make decisions that represent everyone and makes the community a scary place for everyone else.  It does not represent a community mindset and we all deserve better.

We are strong because of our members. The more we empower our members to speak and share, the stronger we will be together. Our content will be cleaner and more valuable. People will learn more and get answers and gain knowledge faster. There will be more diverse perspectives that help build better solutions together.  Bottom line: we cannot continue as we are today.

How Do We Move Forward?

One thing that pleasantly surprised me about the Summit was the interest and willingness of men, particularly those who present as cisgender, white men, to get involved and make things better for marginalized groups. One of the most poignant moments of the entire weekend for me was to watch this man, Scott Hanselman, first speak passionately on the topic of diversity and inclusion and then proceed to publicly step down from his position in leadership at the OSCON conference to make room for a more diverse leadership team. He commented that there is a difference between an “ally” (someone who will “tweet [their support] and take off”) and an “accomplice” (someone who will “go to jail” with/for you). He’s right. We need more accomplices.

This must be a conversation that involves everyone for one reason: we cannot do it alone. We need strong accomplices who currently hold the power to be willing to not only reach out and give others a hand up but are also willing to move out of the way to make room.

The first step for us is to create an environment that welcomes more voices into the conversation. We will speak to and for each other, not only with empathy but also with conviction. We will better empower all our members to speak up if they see something wrong, to share their thoughts in a place where anyone can safely agree or disagree without fear of personal harm, and to get more involved, whether by their own initiative or by actively reaching out to invite them to participate.

For some people, inclusion doesn’t just mean opening the door. Sometimes it means walking out into the hall and personally inviting them in.

And by “we,” I mean all of us – you, me, the community team, every SAP employee, and every other community member – because we are all responsible for the safety of our community. It will take courage – for some more so than for others. We will all have to learn how to be the person who steps up when we see something to say “hey, this isn’t right.”

The community team is currently working on transforming our Rules of Engagement and moderation processes to help with this effort. Additionally, in partnership with community members, as well as, other SAP and non-SAP organizations who are doing good work around this topic, I will be driving forward initiatives that help showcase and create opportunities for visibility, skill development, networking, sponsorship, policy change, celebration of accomplishments, and other programs that build tangible results for better diversity and inclusion.

Note: I will likely be looking for people who are interested in being involved with these efforts as we move forward, so if you are interested in this topic, please keep an eye out for specific opportunities in the future.

I also want to be clear that when I speak about our community, I don’t just mean our website. The SAP community is everywhere people are engaging with each other about SAP topics and working together to make the world a better place. We can do this together.

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22 Comments

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  1. Yogesh Patel

    Hi Jamie,

    Very beautiful blog.

    Thank you for sharing your wonderful thoughts (especially last paragraph)

    Thanks again taking time and write this positive thoughts.

    Best,

    Yogesh

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  2. Michelle Crapo

    Very nice blog!  Inclusion is talked about so many times.  But here you are actively trying to do something about it.   Good for you!  And ultimately great for our community.

    There are so many ways to define inclusion.  It a very large thing to conquer.  (Impossible but never stop trying type of thing)

     

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    1. Jamie Cantrell
      Post author

      Thanks and you’re absolutely right – it is a HUGE topic and it’s not one we’re going to solve in a day (or a month, or a year…) but I will certainly do my part to help us make progress however I can! I am personally exhausted by all the “talk” and I am excited to get to the “do” part 🙂

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  3. Moya Watson

    Accomplices!  Partners in crime, co-conspirators! Though I wish it weren’t such dangerous terminology, I’m glad you are raising the bar, Jamie; very happy you are involved, and looking forward to staying in touch about this work. Thanks for your frankness about bullying that takes place where we maybe don’t assume it does (right here).  And so happy that the guys in charge walked down the hallway to open the door and invite you to play a key role!

     

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    1. Jamie Cantrell
      Post author

      You’re right, the language does feel strange and can definitely have a violent undertone. It makes me think about the suffragettes getting thrown in prison together and the other horrible things they underwent together to get us the vote. Perhaps it is the fact that personal sacrifice and risk are always involved in any undertaking of social change. That’s why I say it takes courage — courage to be willing to endure the discomfort and the risk for the sake of progress. Exciting times!

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    2. Joao Sousa

      What do you mean by bullying that is happening on the SAP Community? I’ve been away for some time and would like to better understand what’s going on.

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      1. Jamie Cantrell
        Post author

        As one example, there has been discord around what’s acceptable/not acceptable content in the Community. It’s fine to disagree and work towards a common understanding. What’s not fine is treating people like idiots, making them feel unwelcome, assuming the worst intentions, accusing them of being intentionally dishonest, and being generally unkind. This behavior makes people afraid to even attempt to participate because it’s not worth the humiliation or the energy to fight to be included. It’s even worse when it comes from those with (explicit or implicit) authority in the Community. When users see it happen, they often experience a conundrum as to whether they can report the bullying behavior or not, given who the aggressor is.

        Specifically, my experience with this has to do with the blogging platform and moderation, which I described in the post above:

        Managing the blogging program has made me aware of many topic experts who do not feel empowered to share their knowledge right now because they are afraid to make a mistake and get blasted by others in the community. This fear of bullying doesn’t serve anyone and reduces the health and value of the community for everyone. It’s so bad that some people don’t feel like they have a right to post something or it’s not their place to report an abusive post. 

        It’s certainly not a new problem and it’s one that plagues online communities of all sizes, but it’s a dynamic we’re taking action to stop as a part of a wider effort to make our Community more inclusive and welcoming to all who wish to contribute and participate.

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        1. Joao Sousa

          It is also a problem with online communities that people are sometimes too sensitive when it comes to feedback, so we come to a situation where can’t include everyone and still give accurate feedback. Some people can’t take feedback even if constructive.

          People will make mistakes, other people will point it out (and they should because otherwise someone else may read innacurate information), and two things must happen:

          • The person providing the feedback must be civil about it;
          • The person writing the blog must accept that he/she made a mistake, and that’s ok.

          What we can’t come to is the opposite situation of people being too afraid to provide civil feedback and then get injustitly flagged for abuse just because someone felt insulted (with no good reason to be).

          You may be surprised that I don’t feel confortable writing this, since it’s not a “thumbs up” cheerful post, but rather a concern regarding the indirect consequences of some diversity/inclusion initiatives. Ironically I’ve seen many inclusion initiaves completely hostile to constructive feedback about themselves.

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          1. Jamie Cantrell
            Post author

            I agree. Our objective here is to facilitate civil discourse. I fully believe that constructive disagreement, criticism, and ultimately, acknowledging when you have a problem, are the keys to continuous improvement (kaizen). However, as you note, we can do it in a way that is not personally degrading to the person taking the criticism. People are much more open to criticism when it’s done in a way that is respectful and acknowledges their shared humanity. Thanks for your thoughts Joao. I’ll give you a ‘thumbs up’ 🙂

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          2. Jelena Perfiljeva

            Even though I frequently disagree with Joao’s opinion when it comes to diversity, he is not wrong here.

            SAP put forward specific rules that we were led to believe are to be followed by everyone. Then the SCN members “did the needful” and reported content that didn’t fit the said rules. And now we are being sort of passively-agressively accused of bullying? Sorry but I feel this is completely uncalled for.

            If there was some miscommunication about the rules then SAP needs to own this. Don’t shift the blame on the Community at large.

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            1. Jamie Cantrell
              Post author

              Nope, this isn’t about the act of reporting content or following the rules. Reporters, critics, and moderators play a critical role in the health of the community and in educating our newer members. In fact, one of the signs of a healthy, inclusive community is having more people feel empowered to report behavior or content that violates the rules. However, there is a difference between constructive criticism and open animosity. We should seek to help fellow members grow from their interactions with us, not cut them down and discourage them from participating in the future. As adults, as humans, on a professional platform, community members deserve respectful discourse and knowing that when we do make a mistake, we’re not going to be flayed for it.

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  4. Nabheet Madan

    Wow Jamie, at least very happy to see this. In my team we have members who have just started and whenever we push them to contribute to the community i can feel a sense of reluctance, fear which exist that what if we get strong comments or what if its to basic. My only advice to them is/has been we need to start somewhere if we will get bogged dowm by the constructive feedback we will never grow & never learn. Always follow the rules and contribute with in the framework.

    When we started during #SDNera we wanted people in community so rules were relaxed and everyone enjoyed it. Now a days we are more focus towards quality content somewhere we become too strict that the other person who has just started his blogging/Q&A stuff stops participating. Somewhere we have to help newbees settle down.

    Diversity is what every community needs, without it the purpose of community stands defeated. So somewhere we will need to bring in more ideas to engage them and bring out the hidden Gems.  Each and everyone of us works with big companies, it our responsibility to be the Flag bearer of our community in his/her workplace. Believe me if each and everyone of us talk to only 1 consultant(in the company) who is not onboarded into the community because of abc reasons and convince that person it will bring in so much diversification

    I am actually very happy after reading this blog and will be happy to help in any way i can

    Thanks

    Nabheet

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    1. Jamie Cantrell
      Post author

      Hi Nabheet,

      Thank you so much for your comments and I’m glad to hear that this resonated with you. It’s important that we also share our experiences, like when you mentioned that new people onboarded into your team share a sense of reluctance to participate. I don’t think it’s always apparent to everyone that ‘newbies’ into our community are faced with an intimidating start in our world. We must remind ourselves that we were new once too. Empathy will be the key to getting our onboarding experience right and you’re absolutely right — if we all reach out to one person to encourage them to actively participate, the impact will be immense. The community has always been centered around individual contribution, but we lost sight of the value of that in recent years through stricter moderation and an intolerance for diverse opinions and new members who are still learning how to be productive members of our society. Each individual has something valuable to contribute and it’s our job as citizens of this community to help them do just that. “Hidden gems,” indeed!

      Thank you for your offer to help! I’d love to hear more of your thoughts and experiences. I’ll be in touch.

      Best,

      Jamie

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  5. Florian Henninger

    Diversity and Inclusion will always be something very important but also something you will never have a finish line to cross.

    So great to see the ongoing invest here.

    Regarding the newly guidelines. I’m really looking forward to it, but if a new guideline can switch the mindset.. not sure about it.

    But for sure a step in the right direction and great to see, that you see the community much broader than the website here. That is also my feeling and I’m here, if you need help with something. Just let me know.

    ~Florian

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    1. Jamie Cantrell
      Post author

      Thank you Florian – it’s always fantastic to know we have your support. You show up where this community needs you and your work is greatly appreciated.

      Re: the guidelines making a change in the mindset, we have a lot of work to do in terms of changing minds and you’re right that D&I doesn’t have a finish line. The new guidelines are a first step in showing our commitment to a safer, healthier community environment but they can’t do the heavy lifting on their own. It will take a commitment and follow-through from all of us to ensure that our home is open to anyone willing to constructively participate.

      Glad you’re on the journey with us.

      Best,

      Jamie

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  6. Sara Johnson

    Jamie,

     

    Great issue you raise here. Thanks for the bravery in broaching a difficult topic, though it shouldn’t be-  as it should be the new norm. Excellent points on conviction and on the community as having a voice. Social channels and wider communities of partners certainly enable the facilitation for these topics and inclusion.

    Thanks

    Sara

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