Sally is the Engineering Director for Trust & Safety at Bumble Inc. (Bumble, Bumble For Friends, Badoo, Fruitz, Official). In her role, she’s helping to build a platform to empower people to create kind, healthy, and equitable connections during all stages of any relationship — whether online or offline.
Sally has previously worked in senior engineering leadership roles at Farewill and Monzo.
At our CTO Craft Conference 2023, she was a part of the keynote panel discussion on ‘Embracing diversity in tech – Building an inclusive & diverse culture that values differences.’
Hi Sally, welcome to the CTO Craft Spotlight Q & A. You were a day 1 panel speaker at the CTO Craft Con. Can you give us an overview of what you shared with our audience at the conference?
Hello! I was so pleased to be part of this CTO Craft Con, especially with getting to talk about such an important topic. Engineering and diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEI&B) are often seen as very distinct topics, but I see building an inclusive and diverse culture as being a hugely important factor towards ultimate tech success.
In the panel, my aim was to bring some practical suggestions for aspects people may not have previously thought about, and I hope I was able to get them inspired and motivated to make some changes back in the office.
The conference theme was Culture and the CTO: Unleashing the Power of People. What does diversity, equality and inclusion in the workplace mean to you?
I love this conference theme, as I’m a big believer that culture underpins everything, and it’s something that I care about a lot in my work. So often, people can focus on engineering or tech culture as an amalgamation of a number of tech metrics focusing on output – for example, how fast people are shipping, how much innovation is happening, and what quality or debt levels look like. Whilst those are all extremely valuable conversations to have, they don’t necessarily focus on how work is happening and what it means to people both inside and outside of your business.
By building a diverse, equitable, and inclusive culture within tech teams, you can have a huge impact on everything from the products that you build (and the real-world problems you solve – as we’re trying to do at Bumble Inc.!) to help protect against a culture of burnout, hiring a much wider group of talented people, and helping to develop them to their full potential. We spend a lot of our lives at work, and it’s extremely important to me that, as a leader, I’m creating an environment where everyone can flourish.
What are your thoughts about diversity and inclusion in tech being imperative for organisations rather than a ‘nice to have’?
I feel really passionately that businesses who care about diversity and inclusion ultimately build more meaningful products, which are more likely to have a net positive impact on the world. Being able to represent a range of lived experiences is an extremely powerful tool for businesses to be able to draw on, and particularly in the Trust & Safety space can help to make sure that you see opportunities for change through a range of perspectives.
What is your experience of diversity and inclusion in tech?
When I first started out in tech, the most immediate and obvious issue was being a woman in very heavily straight, white, male-dominated environments. Over the years, this became more nuanced as I’ve had to navigate my personal journey through topics like disability, mental health, returning to work as a new mum, and more.
I’m fortunate to benefit from a lot of privilege, but the intersectional personal experiences I’ve had have all helped motivate me to build systems that support others through my role as a leader. I’ve also been lucky enough to work with and learn from lots of allies and amazing champions for DEI&B, which I know not everyone is fortunate enough to do.
When I returned to work this summer after time off on parental leave, joining Bumble Inc. was appealing both because the company recognises the importance of diversity and inclusion and is striving for that in our work whilst also being honest and open about how there’s a lot more that we can still do. I’m excited to be part of it!
As a tech leader, what tips do you have for building ongoing diversity and inclusion within engineering teams?
My main tips are to be deliberate, to factor DEI&B in as a lens, to involve a diverse group in your work, and to be open to feedback and change.
Having discussions and setting out your expectations around the culture you’re trying to build and what you need and expect from others is an important starting point. It can help to surface and work through examples that people may not have talked about before.
For example, as a business, do you blanket expect everyone to be on-call, or do you make exceptions for people with anxiety, sleep disorders, or new parents? Does your version of good collaboration involve everyone sitting together in an office, or will you create space for remote workers, those with disabilities and access issues, and autistic folks who prefer a secluded spot with headphones on?
As tech leaders, we typically have a wide reach. You can lend your power to help challenge inequality by understanding topics like team makeup, salary stats, progression expectations, hiring processes and sourcing, opportunities for sponsoring, and more. You can also lead by example, show personal vulnerability, and educate and shine a light on the potential for bias. It’s easy to overlook things that we may consider as basics but which have a huge impact, for example:
“Even when their overall performance ratings are strong, Asian women are less likely than other groups of women to receive positive feedback on their leadership abilities. More than 1 in 6 Asian women say they are frequently mistaken for someone else of the same race, and because of this, colleagues and managers may overlook their specific contributions.”Women in the Workplace: Asian Women, LeanIn.org/McKinsey & Co
In your opinion, what are the most challenging aspects of creating and maintaining a culture of diversity?
Any cultural change needs time and investment to really make an impact. It can take a long time to build, but is easy to break! Particularly if you’re starting from a place of not much diversity or a challenging culture in your existing team, it can be difficult to get going and build momentum.
Knowing what you want to change and actually doing so are sometimes another matter. For example, if your team has a lack of diversity but there’s a hiring freeze (as many folks are dealing with), it can be tough to move the ratio quickly.
This is also a topic that some see as a bit “fluffy”; there can be lots of misunderstanding or education needed, and it typically needs strong collaboration. The most successful cultures of diversity and inclusion that I’ve seen have been multifaceted – for example, combinations of having policies, leaders setting examples, and mindfully building them into processes and ways of working.
How well do you think the technology sector (or engineering) manages and practices diversity and inclusion?
I think it’s still very mixed. Things are getting better in a lot of ways, but there are also still big problems in society more broadly, which subsequently continue to have an impact on the workforce as a whole.
However, it’s been heartening to see more and more companies embracing and engaging with complex topics like mental health, family and reproductive care, remote work, and more nuanced elements of DEI&B rather than just focusing on single facets like the gender or racial breakdown of their employees.
Personally, I know I always need to keep learning – for example, I’ve always hoped that I’ve been supportive of parents that I’ve managed, but wow, becoming one yourself certainly puts a lot in a totally new light! So if you take that and magnify it out, I think a lot of businesses in the tech sector have things they do well, areas they know they could be better in, and areas they think they’re doing ok at but may actually gain a totally new perspective on in future!
Changing the subject completely, please tell us an interesting fact we don’t know about you.
I have some strange, niche hobbies. On my last holiday, I took a deliberate trip to visit a very unremarkable Japanese City Hall’s “Water Supply and Sewerage Department” to pick up a collectable card for a manhole cover.
In your opinion, why should someone come to CTO Craft Con in future?
For me, conferences are mostly about getting outside of my everyday bubble, having an opportunity to meet new people and hear real-life stories. I always hope to come away with a mix of inspiration and practical examples that I’m excited to try out in my work, and I really hope that others attending CTO Craft Con in future will feel similarly.
Finally, can you recommend a book or a podcast that every technology leader should read or listen to either in the space of strategy, development or leadership in general?
I’ve been fortunate enough to work with Sheree Atcheson in the past, and she’s had a big influence on my work. Her book, Demanding More, is a fantastic practical read for anyone wanting to understand more about diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging space. On top of that, she’s a thoroughly lovely human.
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