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Blog > October 2021 > Humanizing Diversity and Fostering Psychological Safety at the WLIT Coffee Talk

Humanizing Diversity and Fostering Psychological Safety at the WLIT Coffee Talk

ASG, a Rocket company, has a strong belief in the power of diverse voices coming together to create a culture where everyone can show up authentically. That’s why we are so proud of our Women Leaders in Tech (WLIT) program that is now officially a part of Rocket’s Inclusion, Diversity and Equity initiative (RIDE). As Rocket’s new chief marketing officer, I am excited about joining a team that is committed to facilitating these important conversations and I look forward to advancing the WLIT program as it joins RIDE.

Last week, during EVOLVE21, attendees came together to discuss putting people first in corporate cultures at the most recent session in our WLIT coffee talk series. The coffee talk featured Sharra Owens-Schwartz, Rocket’s senior director of inclusion, diversity and equity in conversation with Rocki Howard, who announced she will be starting a new role as the chief people officer of The Mom Project. Kelly Sutter, ASG’s head of global field marketing and WLIT and RIDE ambassador, moderated the powerful conversation. Read on for just a few of the important takeaways from the discussion.

Leveraging Diversity Brings a Full Range of Benefits
Every person has lived experiences that allow them to bring unique contributions to a team. With a diverse range of perspectives, organizations can meet their goals faster, increase revenue and retain better talent. In fact, Rocki Howard shared that diverse organizations are 35% more likely to have increased ROI and are 87% better decision makers. The benefits of diverse teams go on and on – in the words of Sharra Owens-Schwartz, diversity can no longer be seen as something that’s just nice to have-- it is a business imperative.

Sharra also shared how fostering psychological safety in the workplace means creating a space where people feel comfortable taking risks. In these positive environments, employees can achieve their full potential because they know their organization and team supports them. This can lead to improved results for the organization, as employees have increased confidence in their abilities.

To access these benefits, companies must minimize bias at every stage of the hiring process. Organizations should reflect on who is sitting on their hiring board – representation in these spaces helps ensure that decision-makers can advocate for and amplify the voices of diverse candidates. But hiring diverse candidates isn’t enough, organizations must work to support employees throughout their journey with continued commitment.

Companies Must Consider Multiple Dimensions of Diversity
In order to foster the safe and supportive environments that bring these results, companies should work to humanize their diversity efforts. Often, Rocki noted, talking about diversity as an initiative can distance individuals from actually doing the work. Instead, we need to listen to people's unique experiences, or origin stories as Rocki calls them, to connect with each other on a human level.

This helps people understand multiple dimensions of diversity -- everyone holds a unique intersection of identities that impact their perspectives and work. In thinking about these layers of identity, organizations should consider factors such as race, ethnicity, nationality, age, gender identity, religion, psychical ability, sexual orientation, and so many more elements that make up a person. Are they a parent, do they come from a disadvantage socio-economic background, are they neurodivergent? Every individual has multiple identities, and everyone should be able to thrive regardless of who they are.

Humanizing diversity by understanding peoples’ stories allows organizations to make space for everyone to feel included and helps to strengthen the connections that build successful teams. When an employee feels they are being fully seen, they can do their best work.

Translating Intentions into Impact
Often, organizations approach diversity, equity and inclusion work with the best of intentions and genuine commitment, but this does not guarantee that it will translate into impact. A report Rocki worked on while at Smart Recruiters found that 68% of leaders don’t have the recruiting budget to meet the diversity goals they’ve set. Meaningful progress requires organizations to align their investments with their publicly stated goals.

Additionally, organizations often think of DEI efforts as belonging to one person with diversity in their title, when in fact every single person must contribute to building an inclusive environment. To be an effective ally, people shouldn’t just call themselves one. It requires taking action, reading, listening and understanding what is impacting the person on the other side of the table. One step leaders can implement right now? End every meeting by asking, “What can I do to support you?”

As the panelists pointed out, many people are afraid to say the wrong thing when they are involved in conversations around diversity and end up staying silent. Making mistakes is a part of the process, and everyone should get more comfortable with admitting them and growing from them. Sharra emphasizes that staying humble is critical to being an effective ally.

Continue to Commit to DEI Efforts with RIDE
Thank you to all who joined and engaged with this important conversation! The recording of the session is now accessible anytime on the EVOLVE21 site by navigating to “view all sessions” in the auditorium, “launching” the virtual coffee talk.

Rocket is committed to keeping the dialogue going, be sure to save the date and join us for our next WLIT coffee talk series on March 8, International Women’s Day!