D&I and DevOps – A Match Made In Heaven. How Addressing Diversity & Inclusion Can Accelerate DevOps Adoption. (Europe 2021)

What do D&I and DevOps have in common? Surprisingly, a lot. Some people think Diversity is for their HR department to worry about, which is like saying DevOps is just an IT concern. This couldn’t be further from the truth. These seemingly unrelated concepts have one very important thing in common: they are both critical to any organization trying to survive in the age of digital. In this talk you will learn: - The story about what happened when Cornerstone CTO put the most senior woman of our globally distributed 1,000+ person Technology team in charge of diversity. - Why Diversity & Inclusion is as important to your organization’s survival as DevOps. - How advancing D&I will accelerate your DevOps transformation. - 5 key D&I lessons that worked for Cornerstone that can be applied to any complex enterprise IT organization.


Adrienne Shulman

AVP, Business Systems, Cornerstone



Hi, I'm Adrian Shullman and I'm excited to be here today talking about two of my favorite topics, DevOps, and diversity and inclusion. But before we begin, I have a confession to make. So I'm here at a DevOps conference, but for the longest time, I didn't even know what dev ops was. Um, and it's not because I didn't want to know. I actually really wanted to know, and I tried really hard to figure it all out and it just took me a really, really long time. Um, okay. So now that I got that out, we can start with some more formal introductions, but the reason I wanted to tell you that, um, I'm going to, it's going to come out later in the talk. So just file that away, um, for now.


Um, okay. So, like I said, formula introductions, I'm Adrian Shullman. I am a VP of business systems at cornerstone. Um, if you're not familiar with cornerstone, we're an HR tech software company. Uh, we make software that helps organizations recruit, manage, and develop their people. Uh, cornerstone is a 21 year old company and we started, uh, from the beginning as single code base, multi-tenant SAS. Um, at some point, you know, in our adolescents, we got to the point where we had much bigger teams. We wanted to do a lot more, but it felt like work was harder to do. Um, we had more people, but it seemed like we were going slower. We couldn't do as much. Um, and this may sound familiar to a lot of you. So we've been on a journey multi-year journey to implement DevOps practices. Uh, in our engineering work, we are moving from on-prem into public cloud hosting.


We are breaking up our monolith architecture into microservices, and just generally moving from big bang, quarterly releases into CIC D. Um, so you can imagine also different parts of our organization are at different phases. Uh, along on that journey. Now, as EVP of business systems, I lead a team I'm responsible for operationalizing our product. Um, that's a fancy way of saying what you might know of as tooling. So think things like process automation, business intelligence, data, privacy, controls, support, tooling, fun, stuff like that. Um, so why I'm here today is to share my experience leading diversity and inclusion in tech. So what happened about two years ago? Our CTO looked around, noticed a lack of diversity. He knew me as someone who was really passionate at the time about expanding opportunities, women in tech. I'd been a long time volunteer for girls who code. Um, I mentor a lot of women in tech.


I'm just kind of loud and vocal about advocating for, um, women's issues at work. So, um, and I was also the most senior women in engineering at the time. So he tapped me on the shoulder and he said, Hey, Adrian, we got to do something about this. Um, so we did, um, we've been on this journey for about two years. Uh, what's most interesting. Um, and what this talk is really about is along the way, we found a lot of similarities or synergies between our diversity and inclusion work and our dev ops practices and dev ops adoption. So I'm most excited to kind of share those connections with you today. Um, I'll talk about my experience. I'm going to give you some lessons. We learned things that you can implement back at your organization to advance both DNI and, um, diversity or sorry, DNI and DevOps. And I'll make sure at the end, I tell you how you can get involved.


Now, if we were at a conference in person together, I would give you all a piece of paper to take notes on. Um, but next best thing, if you have a notebook and you want to scribble some notes, feel free or screenshot this, um, these are just some questions I want you to be able to answer. So the first one, if you're at this conference, I'm assuming you're already passionate about DevOps. You may not be, but this is something you're going to want to be able to answer already, or by the end of this conference, why is dev ops so critical to your organization now, by the end of my talk, I'm hoping you can also answer these questions about diversity and inclusion, why DNI is really critical to your organization. And then also maybe a place to take some notes where you've got like specific tactics you can take home.


So I'm going to say our industry has a diversity problem. I'm not going to waste my time trying to convince you of that. I'm just putting that out there as fact. Um, one of the things I think is good though, is we're seeing more and more organizations really invest, either start a diversity and inclusion or diversity equity and inclusion journey or invest even heavier. So I think it's important to note that diversity equity, inclusion, not new concepts, um, decades and decades old. Um, I want to say DNI goes back maybe 40, more than 40 50 years. Um, organizations though are getting more involved these days. I think for kind of one of four reasons, uh, the first one being social pressure. So these are the CEOs or CTOs that are embarrassed about their lack of diversity. Everybody else is doing it. They may be getting pressure from their board to do something and they don't really know why, but they're gonna do it anyway.


Um, the next is justice. This is a really strong motivator. We're seeing a lot of CEOs really feel a moral obligation to address the inequality in our communities and society. They feel a responsibility to really use their power and platform, uh, to make change. Third one, which is interesting is that even if you're not that motivated the talent market today is really demanding it. Um, and what I mean by that, and this is especially true for millennials and gen Z are people only want to work for companies that are really committed to diversity and inclusion. Um, there's a lot of research that shows us, we've actually seen this in our company as well. Um, we have examples of people who have taken jobs at cornerstone because of our commitment to DNI. They said, Hey, I have other offers, but I'm choosing to work here. Um, by the way, this is the first connection I think, between DNI and DevOps.


Um, so I told you, I didn't know what dev ops was I do now. I've been practicing it. And I never working somewhere that doesn't adopt DevOps practices. It's a better way of working. It's less stressful, I'm happier. And I feel also the same way about DNI. Um, and the fourth reason are the companies or the teams that really understand that diversity, you can use it to your advantage to spark innovation. Um, in my case at cornerstone, I'm going to say the reasons were combination of one and two. I said at the time, you know, the CTO had long known, there was a diversity problem. He wanted to do something about it. He knew it was the right thing to do. Um, I don't think it really matters why you start your journey can be any reason I matters really is what you do next with it.


Um, so we started for those reasons of add, we should do something and we've really went all in and we've been on a two year journey, um, really embedding diversity, equity and inclusion into all aspects of our engineering org. Um, I like to say, we're trying not to just do DNI. We're trying to be diverse and inclusive. Um, similar to what you think about when you think about agile, right? You don't want to do agile. You want to be agile or have agility, and that's the approach we're taking. Um, I led this work. I led the work, um, but I didn't do it alone. I had a team of five or six people with me, um, doing kind of leading the work, but we also had 50 volunteers driving, um, kind of DNI through various committees. My point for this talk is really not to walk you through everything we did.


I'd rather focus on the lessons we learned. Um, but I have my contact info here. So if you do actually want to get into this, cause this could be a four hour talk in itself, please feel free to reach out to me. Um, that's a genuine offer my emails there. Um, you can find me on Twitter as well. Um, so here's, what I want to start with is kind of explain where we found the dev connection. So, like I said, I started this two years ago. I was leading a lot of the work, which meant I was, had a very kind of visible role in this. So I was joining our all hands, our CTO, all hands meetings. We have a global tech team of a thousand people. So I was talking to a lot of people. Um, I didn't know what dev ops was at the time.


It was talking about the importance of diversity and what we doing. And after every time I would talk about DNI, I would have people ping me afterwards. So slack, email, phone calls, Hey, Adrian. I really like what you're doing. How can I help? Um, these are people I wouldn't normally work with. I had people pinging me from New Zealand, Paris, California. I'm based in New York. They're not people I knew in my day to day. They were just people who said, I love what you're doing with mentoring. How can I help? I love the, ask me anything events you're doing. Let's do more of those. So only later did it occur to me that every single one of these people who'd come out and offer their help were what you'd call her. Uh, you know, the, the rebel Alliance or the dev ops people, um, who were really pushing dev ops practices.


Um, so what I realized is this culture that I'm pushing to improve diversity, which is really about inclusion and psychological safety. It's the same culture that the dev ops guys and they were all down and they were all guys, I should say, but what the dev ops guys were really pushing to modernize our engineering practices. Um, and that's, so I'd say that's kind of, I had this aha moment and we've really been conspiring together to create this optimum culture. So what follows, I'm going to give you the five lessons we learned along the way that you can take home to help advance diversity and inclusion and DevOps at your organization.


All right. Lesson one. And this is important, no matter where you are in your journey. So if you're just getting started with DNI or dev ops, or you're, well-advanced many, many years in, you need this. Okay. So nothing else matters at any point in time, if you don't have your leadership bought in. Um, and let's see, I'll give you two pieces of advice. Um, if you're starting your journey. So one of the things we did remember, I told you the CTO tapped me and said, let's go do DNI. Um, I didn't want to just jump in and get busy. Right? I said, well, let's, let's make sure we're really doing this for the right reasons. So I had a prelaunch checklist for me, for DNI. It was, I needed to make sure we had executive commitment and not just at the CTO level, but the entire tech leadership really had to be bought in.


I needed to make sure we were doing it for the right reasons, not just because we were embarrassed about it, a lack of diversity. Um, and for this, I also needed to make sure there was diversity in the diversity team. Um, so I told you I was the most senior woman in tech at the time, so I was very visible, but I had to make sure that we weren't, it wasn't my problem to solve, um, increasing women. It's not a woman's problem to solve general diversity. Um, it's not really the minorities or underrepresented groups problem to solve. Um, it took me six months to do this. I took six months to make sure we were really, really doing it before we, um, kind of really rolled up our sleeves and got our hands dirty. Um, and the second thing, and I'm going to say that words invite action.


I'm going to talk to the CTOs out there. Um, so when we first announced this a couple of years ago, the CTO was going to announce that this was going to be one of his priorities. And he offered me, he said, Adrian, you know, why don't you tell everyone about it? Um, which I appreciate because give people visibility. I was going to do a lot of the work. And I said, no, you know what? I want them to hear it from you. And this was really important because when the CTO spoke about it, as one of his personal priorities, people really listen. People listen to your words. Um, and it turns out you have a lot of passionate people in your organization who want to get involved with diversity inclusion. And they're really just waiting on a signal from you. So as soon as the CTO said, Hey, we're going to start doing it. I mean, we had people, volunteers coming out, we didn't even know existed. And they were really getting involved. They're calling out microaggressions, they're calling out bias, sharing inclusive, best practices, organizing events, panel discussions. There's just been a lot of employee engagement because it, the words kind of came from the top. Um, so make sure you have leadership commitment through the whole way. Um, lesson two, and this will also sound familiar from if you've read a lot of dev ops literature or just any sort of transformations.


You want people to change behavior, you need to sell them on why it's important, right? You don't do DevOps for DevOps sake and you don't do diversity for diversity's sake. Um, I'm sure we've all read about the programs, DNI programs that fail because the majority aren't bought into the value. Um, if you're just getting into DNI, I'm going to tell you it's very, very difficult. Um, and same with dev ops. I told you, we, my company has been on a multi-year journey and we've had lots of success. And at some point it still feels like we're just getting started. Um, so a lot of research will tell you that diverse teams report work, being harder. Um, it's easy to work with people just like us and less diverse teams. They work is easier, but you get better work. You get better outcomes when you have diverse teams.


So you really want to convince people why diversity inclusion is so important. Um, otherwise it can backfire. So I think the key for you, right? Your challenge, there are a million reasons why DNI is important. You have to find the ones that resonate most for your organization. At cornerstone. I used three things. Um, the first being that diversity increases team intelligence, what do I mean by that? Look at me. I'm an engineering leader. Um, I'm great at writing software. I've got 20 year history of, of building technology. I'm good at what I do. Um, imagine I want to create a new product and I hire a team of developers who are just like me. What am I going to get? I'll probably create really good software for a middle-aged working mother of three kids who lives in the Northeast of the United States of America. Um, and maybe who likes to listen to EDM and go on long walks in the woods by herself.


You see where I'm going with this. If you want to build technology, digital products, software solutions for the world, you need to have the diversity of the world baked into your teams. Okay? So that's the idea. The more diverse your team, the more your team has intelligence, however, diversity alone, doesn't get you. The result you need inclusion. Um, inclusion means you've got the diversity in your team, but people need to participate. So I have good ideas in my head. I don't know. We share them if I don't feel included. Um, here's remember I told you, I didn't know what dev ops was. This is why it's important. I wanted to know what dev ops was. This was several years ago. I had heard it from everywhere. So how did I find out I Googled it? I bought books. Um, I tried to read about it.


Do you know what I didn't do? I didn't ask all the men around me, what it was. I had people at my work practicing DevOps, and I didn't ask them looking back. Now. It seems silly, but at the time it was just, that's what I did. So what that means is I didn't have enough psychological safety or I wasn't included enough to feel really comfortable. And you have people at work and they're not just the low performers. I'm a high performer. I'm good at what I do. I'm a former employee of the year and I still didn't feel comfortable saying, Hey, what's dev ops. I want to learn. Um, now that's all changed. So we've been on this two year journey. We're practicing more inclusion, we're increasing participation. Um, and then the third reason is about justice. So I said before, this is an intrinsic motivator for people. People want to do the right thing. People want to make the world better. And this is absolutely something you should talk about as well.


So now you have your leadership bought in. You've told everyone why it's so important. People are ready. What do you do? Every research, every PR professional out there will tell you, you must invest in training and outside experts. I agree. This is critical. So keep in mind also, I'm not a DNI professional, I'm an engineering leader. Um, so I went to the experts. Um, I went and learned DNI, and this was one of the number one things they recommend. So you absolutely have to bring in outside experts. It's hard to look in a mirror, do your unconscious bias training, do your inclusive leadership training, but you're not done. Okay. It's actually really easy to do training. Think about it from that compliance mindset. Okay, you have to pay for it. It's expensive. I say it's expensive, but easy. What you really need to do is elevate the consciousness of your entire organization and the way you do that is by creating a learning culture.


Um, what we did at cornerstone, we just have lots of what we call kind of social learning, informal learning. And we're doing this with our dev ops practices as well. So think about all of the lunch and learns and the ask me anythings, um, slack channels dedicated to these, uh, topics. So it's really fostering a place where learning is more important than being perfect. Um, I'm going to give you two hats for this that I've done with my team about six months ago, um, that worked really, really well to increase psychological safety and create a learning culture, um, in my team, these aren't new, um, or these aren't my unique original ideas. Uh, but they work and it's surprisingly how easy they do. So number one, when you go back to your organization, if you are a leader, if you have a team, the first thing you're going to do is change your team's goal to not be the best you're going to say.


I don't want you to be the best. I want you to be the best at getting better, simple little thing. And it just kind of unlocks that safety and people can really get motivated around that. And the second thing is, I want you to throw out the word failure. So in tech, we have a habit of talking about failing a lot and we celebrate it. Let's fail fast. Yay. We failed. Let's fail. But what I found is, especially in these large and complex organizations, when different people are at different stages of journeys, failure, the word failure just makes you people want to avoid it. So I've changed the word, fail in all of my vocabulary to learn. So I told people, your goal is not to fail fast. It's to learn fast. Um, we're not creating failure loops or feedback loops. It's just learning loops.


Um, so those two small hacks immediately, I mean, it was almost immediately, I saw an increase in psychological safety and more productivity in my teams, and then people are more free to share their ideas. Um, and you can kind of tap into the diversity, uh, within your teams, fourth lesson. Um, and this is one of my, I think this is very interesting or one of my favorite ones is this idea that doing more is easier. So you know how an engineering, we have that idea that, um, we want to start small, do an MVP, run a safe experiment, throw that thinking away when it comes to diversity and inclusion in the beginning, my CTO said, Hey, Adrian, we need more women in tech. And I said, we do, let's go do that. So I would talk to women and women really paid attention and they said, yeah, let's do it.


But then I would talk to other minority groups, other underrepresented groups, and you know, how they felt, they'd say, why are women more important than me? I'm feel left out? Why are we starting with women? And then I talked to the majority when I talked to men and they were just, what do I? So once I started talking about why diversity inclusion is so important, the feelings of what it feels like to be excluded at work, everybody got on board because everyone has had that moment. It was really created empathy. Um, so I went back to the CTO and I said, look, we can't really focus on women alone. Um, and we can't just focus on diversity. You have to focus on diversity and changing the culture to be more inclusive. Um, so we did that highly recommend it. Um, if you start too small, if you think you're just going to kind of increase one element of diversity, it's going to backfire.


Um, Deloitte recommends, uh, what they call it, culture reset, not a tick the box program. Um, and that's very similar to what you might think about from a DevOps perspective, right? You're not gonna do one piece, you know, you can't do hire a DevOps engineer and say you're done. Um, you really have to kind of rewrite the whole system. Um, and the second lesson is shift left. So I'm sure you're familiar with the shift left from a dev ops perspective, all about baking quality into your product, baking security in and not kind of doing handoffs to other teams, same concept with diversity and inclusion. You can't centralize, um, or outsource this work. So you should hire the AI practitioners or a chief diversity officer if you don't, but it doesn't mean you're off the hook. You have to do the work and you have to bring these DEI concepts into how you do your work, um, and not kind of wait to do it later.


Fifth and last lesson, um, is all about data. So I can't come to a tech conference and not talk about data. Right. Um, that is important. You must absolutely measure. You want to try to measure both diversity based on demographic data, pretty easy to do and inclusion that's much harder to do because how do you know how someone feels? Um, if my CTO asked Adrian, uh, is Adrian feeling included two years ago when I was scared to ask about dev ops, he would say yes, because I was his point of view. It looked like I was fully participating. Um, and if he asked me, do you feel included? I might say yes. Um, but I wasn't fully, fully there. So inclusion much harder, but also really important to do. Um, so we do both the mantra. I want you to take away, especially if you're not already doing this is transparency, builds trust.


Um, I want to encourage you if you have not yet already to do your diversity of reports and share it with your teams, um, you can share it externally as well, if you want. I know a lot of organizations are doing that, but even if you're not ready for that, share it internally. Um, you may feel, um, sorry about that, but you may feel, um, you want to improve the numbers first. You might feel a little embarrassed. Let's make them better. No, put them out there. Um, what we do is we use flow dynamics to understand how diversity moves into and out of a system. This is a sample diversity of report, um, that we created that really just kind of shows your total number of employees. What's the diversity. Um, this could be on any number of kind of any demographic, uh, and a measure you want to look.


This could be gender diversity. What is the total makeup of, let's say, um, of your gender in your department. Um, but you also want to look at the diversity coming in, who are you bringing in? You want to look at the diversity going out and also very important. You need to look at the diversity as you move up in the organization and leadership, both in people management roles and your individual contributor roles. Um, and what I've done is, um, I shared this report every quarter with the tech leadership team. Um, they're my peers and I, in order to create psychological safety, I say to them, these, this data is just observations. They're not judgements. So we're going to look at these numbers every quarter to look at how they move. We're going to use these to create conversations, but they're not really judgments now. Um, and for every step you take to increase diversity, which we should be doing. I tell them, you have to take to, to increase inclusion in your teams, because if you increase diversity, by bringing more diversity into your organization, if you don't address the culture, you'll have people leaving.


So to summarize, um, leadership commitment matters the whole way through on your journey. You have to sell the why you have to get people really bought into why this is going to better for everybody, of course, creates a learning culture, not just with training and compliance, but actually getting people to, to learn. Um, the rare case where think big, do more, is easier. Don't try to be too narrow, always use data. My bonus lesson is buckle up and be patient. Um, these are all lessons. This has nothing. This has nothing about diversity inclusion on this slide. These are all the lessons that our DevOps adoption, as we're trying to spread these practices, we're doing the same thing


Now, how do we know it's working? Um, after two years, our diversity numbers haven't changed that dramatically. Um, we have a large organization, a thousand people in our engineering org, um, there's pockets where we're doing a lot better. Diversity wise there's pockets, where we've, where we're not. Um, but what I like to say is there's kind of three elements. We're tracking that we know we're on the right course and we're going to stay committed. So the first thing that leaders are not only are they remaining committed, they're more committed now. So when we started two years ago, it was really in the engineering department. My CTO, um, was fully bought in. We now have all of his peers, um, in our C-suite and executive team really bought in our entire company is very committed to doing the work. Our employee engagement has increased. Remember I told you, all it takes is for you to say, this is important and people want to do the work.


We have hundreds of people really getting involved, um, spreading diversity and inclusion, and really advocating for more DEI at work. Um, and from a culture perspective, again, hard to measure, I just have lots of anecdotes where people are emailing me. Um, and these are minorities, women, people from underrepresented groups, people who feel like they're only saying thank you to me because culture has so has kind of subtly changed over the years. Our meetings are more inclusive. People are more open to ideas. Um, we are, um, it's just much more collaborative as well, which again, all the same culture you want for your dev ops.


So here's the help I'm looking for from you. Do you remember in the beginning, I said, it took me a long time to understand what dev ops was. So I finally came around, I get it. And I'm in love. Um, it's absolutely. Re-energized my career in tech. Um, so I started in tech 20 years ago. I remember the high, I got writing my first line of code, deploying it, seeing it on a website for the first time. Well, I thought I was missing that joy just because I got into engineering leadership, but I've rediscovered that joy dev ops practices, agile CIC D um, diverse. And I'm going to say diversity and inclusion. It's I am in love with our organization or our industry technology again. Um, so if you believe that our industry is better with more DevOps, and if you believe our industry is better with more diversity inclusion, and I think it's more equitable, more interesting, more productive, and just happier than we need your help spreading the gospel, evangelize this war.


So you're here at this conference. It means you're a leader, whether entitle or not, you have influence you're a learner. So spend your political capital go back to your organization and make it more diverse, make it more inclusive. Um, if you're in DNI area, go talk to your dev ops people. If you're in dev ops, go talk to your DNI people and conspire together, um, and see how much you can do. So again, my contact info is here again. I do invite anyone to reach out to me. Um, if you found other similarities between DNI and dev and dev ops, I'd love to hear it. Um, otherwise please say, hi. I'd love to meet you. Thank you for giving me the time. Um, it's been an honor and have a great day. Enjoy the rest of the conference. Thank you.