(This is a post primarily about the results of an experiment, but I did build a tool as part of it that you can use to gather behavioral feedback from former coworkers; you can go directly to WorkWithMeAgain.com to use it for free without reading about the journey or my data.)
In 2020, I started directly soliciting feedback from former colleagues in a one-question survey: would they seek (+2) or avoid (-2) working with me again? It was a deliberate attempt to use a behavioral measure to understand how different demographics experienced our time together in the workplace. The data was gathered via an anonymous form and always more than six months after working with me, to avoid a recency bias.
We spend more than a third of our life at work, often with other people. And the quality of those interactions are the single greatest predictor of our satisfaction with our work. Not money, not commute time or hours at the office, but who we spend our time with. That means that if we’re interested in making a better world, how we show up for other people is one of the single most important decisions we make.
The last time I collected this data in 2020, I discovered that while most people would seek out working with me again, white women had particularly polarized reactions to my behavior at work. While not statistically significant, both non-white and non-men coworkers had a lower desire to work with me again and their standard deviations was higher – while some truly enjoyed the experience, others found it actively aversive.
After reading through the qualitative feedback they left, I started making changes. And now, three years later, I can see the results of those changes: both non-white and non-men coworkers showed a 10% increase in their desire to work together.
Interestingly, there was also a slight improvement for coworkers that were either white or men; showing up better for underrepresented groups helped me show up better for everyone.
So the obvious question is: what changed?
One of the limitations of this simple survey is that I can’t say for sure; while people could leave me qualitative feedback, those comments are snapshots of momentary interactions rather than reflections on a longer relationship.
That said, looking at the comments in 2020 and in 2023, a few potential differences emerge. These are filtered through my personal experience, however, so should be taken with a grain of salt.
One trend that seems clear between the two sets of comments is how my role (and thus I) was perceived. Prior to 2020, the majority of the comments focus on my leadership and the notion of working for me, whereas the 2023 comments tend to center on my expertise and the idea of working with me. This is probably an inevitable shift that occurs somewhat because of tenure but is also a reflection point; am I my best self when I’m coaching more than managing? Should I seek out more coaching roles?
There is also a shift between direct judgment and framework establishment. Prior to 2020, many of the comments center on my ability to make executive decisions about what someone should or shouldn’t do – when those decisions were perceived as wrong, people were less likely to want to work with me again. The 2023 comments reflect a shift toward presenting frameworks by which decisions could be made, so that people felt more autonomy that aligned with their accountability.
There is another source of data that confirms this shift. In addition to the Work With Me Again survey, I have an anonymous form that people can use to give me feedback that appears in my email signature. Many of the comments post-2020 focus on my questioning and how working as a thought partner made people feel “inspired, not embarrassed’ when they didn’t have all the answers.
Part of this may also be colored by how I left my most recent role. When I resigned from frog/CapGemini because of their refusal to release diversity data, it is possible that it increased underrepresented people’s willingness to work with me again. How someone leaves a role can also who is willing to follow them forward and it highlights how important clear messaging is when switching jobs. Despite all the noise about radical candor and transparency in the workplace, the simple fact is that most people just leave without ever really being clear why. And that’s something we need to change, both at an individual and company level.
I’m happy to see that I was able to close the gap in the last three years, but it doesn’t mean I should stop. And hopefully neither will you. If you’re committed to doing the same kind of work, the tools I used are publicly available at WorkWithMeAgain.com. It will allow you to copy the Google Sheet that contains all the calculations, as well as instructions on how to launch the survey to your former coworkers. I am absolutely convinced that putting in the effort to gather meaningful behavioral feedback can be a key component in how we change our individual behaviors and thus the world.
Side Note: One of the things that is clear from the over 200 people that have taken the survey is that there are some people out there who feel deeply wronged by me. That’s potentially inevitable and part of being human, but it doesn’t have to be the end of the store: if an apology would help bring closure, I’m here.
https://mattwallaert.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/smalllogo.png00matthttps://mattwallaert.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/smalllogo.pngmatt2023-02-24 00:31:512023-02-24 00:31:53I’m a better coworker than I used to be. I know because I asked.
For the last several years, I have been making myself available for free, first-come-first-served meetings that I call office hours. They’re 30 minute 1:1 virtual meetings, guided by the participant, on topics ranging from career advice to applied behavioral science. And they’re motivated by the belief that when we require introductions or other forms of social proof to gate access to our time, we replicate the existing systemic biases inherent in those social systems.
In 2021, we released our first Diversity Report, a concentrated effort to make sure that this system is in fact serving a broad range of underrepresented people. In our 2022 edition, we provide updates on our commitments from last year, refreshed data, and make our commitments for next year.
I use the plural repeatedly throughout this report. That’s because making office hours happen is a team effort; even if I’m the one actually showing up, there is a tremendous amount of work from a number of people to make sure that we follow up on action items, share our learnings, and prepare this report every year. In particular, Melanie Perera from Oceans and Zsanelle Lalani are instrumental in connecting job seekers with opportunities, sending out materials, and preparing the Mentor Minutes for social media. I am grateful for all they do and hope you take a moment to celebrate them.
Before looking at the results, a few quick notes on methodology. To gather the data, we set up a Google Forms survey and then used Zapier to automatically email participants with a link after each meeting, along with an end-of-year followup reminding them of the survey. In addition to asking for qualitative feedback to help us improve, we asked basic demographic questions about age, gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, etc. No questions were required, all were multiple choice with options presented in random order, with “Other” and “Prefer not to say” options included.
For 2022, given immense changes in my personal life (including moving across the country and my co-parent’s cancer diagnosis), my ability to do office hours consistently was somewhat curtailed – we went from ~800 meetings last year to more like ~550 meetings this year. We received 150 survey responses, giving us a response rate of ~27%.
That is roughly the same as last year and generally quite high. Typical survey response rates are less than 5%, so we can make some reasonable assumptions that this data is representative of the larger population of participants. But you could always make an argument that some segments are more likely to respond, so take it all with a grain of salt.
On to the 2022 data! Each section has a two paragraph format: first data, then interpretation. There will be a separate section at the end for commentary and 2023 commitments. I’ve included the change from the 2021 numbers in parentheses so you can also see trends. I’m open to questions and feedback on the analysis, as well as suggestions on what commitments you’d like me to make; just shoot me an email.
The mean age in respondents was 34 (+0) and the median was 33 (+2). The best comparison is probably the median age of the US working population, which is 42, so overall we’re skewed a little younger. However, the standard deviation was around 9 (+0), with participants ranging from 17 to 69, so there was a good bit of variability.
I see this as an improvement from last year. Not only did the range of ages go up, but so did the average and median age. Why is that a success? Because younger people have greater access to formal mentorship programs than do older people, a general upward trend in age means we’re serving the underserved.
Among respondents, 56% (+1) identified as women, 39% (-3) identified as men, and 5% (+2) identified as non-binary/genderqueer. This is a fairly large overrepresentation of women, who generally are less likely to participate in the workforce. For non-binary people, the estimate jumped from 1% to 5% this year which is in line with our number; I expect this is a more accurate number for the population rather than a genuine increase in gender identification.
This is a mild improvement from last year. It isn’t that I don’t think men are deserving of help (especially since they may be underrepresented for other reasons) but since my office hours are an attempt to democratize access and systemic sexism is an issue, this is a positive trend.
78% (+3) of respondents identified as heterosexual, with 22% (+7) identifying as some form of LGBQ. This is significantly different than the base rate of 93% and 7%, respectively.
I am very publicly liberal and work in and around fields that are generally more liberal (tech/design/etc.), so these numbers aren’t entirely atypical in my larger community. That said, there are still significant biases present in our often heteronormative culture, so I’m generally happy to see overrepresentation here.
Race and Ethnicity
53% (+13) of respondents identified as White (base rate 77%), 7% (-8) as Black or African American (base rate 13%), 19% (-11) as Asian (base rate 6%), 1% (+1) Native American (base rate 2%) and 20% (+5) as More Than One Ethnicity (base rate 2%). In addition, 12% (-1) identified as Hispanic or Latino/a/x (base rate 18%), with Mexican, Mexican American, or Chicano/a/x as the largest group.
This is obviously disappointing; a 13 point jump in White is a lot, even if it is still significantly below the baseline. This increase, however, is correlated with an increase in meetings with people based outside the United States; 58% of international meetings were White, compared to just 47% of US-based meetings.
20% (-3) of respondents are first-generation Americans (base rate 14%), while 23% (+5) are first-generation college graduates (base rate 35%). 27% (-13) view themselves as underrepresented in their field, while 9% are living in poverty and 5% identify as disabled. 41% (+3) did not add any additional tagging. 74% are currently living in the United States, while 26% live in one of eighteen other countries with Canada, Germany, and the UK being the most represented.
Commentary and Commitments
In 2022, it was difficult for me to react to these findings because the only data I had to compare them with was the base rate. In 2023, I have last year’s data as a benchmark and generally come away with mixed feelings.
On the positive side, age, gender, and sexual orientation all showed year-over-year increases in representation. While the gains were modest, they trended in the right direction and over a much larger sample size, giving us increasing confidence that we are serving those who need it most.
The biggest disappointment is obviously the increase in White-only participants. Even with the growth in international audience, the purpose of my office hours is to reduce systemic bias and I simply can’t do that if I’m not meeting with those who face biases related to race and ethnicity. While the rate of straight, cis White men who didn’t identify with any underrepresented categories remained the same this year at 13%, this is a place where I expect to see year-over-year improvements and so no change simply isn’t good enough. It is on me to take action in 2023 to change this trajectory.
We made two important commitments in our 2021 report, both of which we were able to honor. As promised, we began releasing clips from our office hours across multiple social media platforms and will continue to do that into 2023. We also exceeded our $5K committed budget and spent closer to $12K supporting the needs of individuals who had challenges this year; while we have not yet set a budget for 2023, we will continue to push forward on that front.
There were a number of other operational changes to office hours this year, across the technology, processes, and team available. For example, we introduced a tracker that allowed us to more easily view the applications of those who were looking for work and make referrals where appropriate; we assisted in 61 job searches in 2022.
I continue to believe that public, open office hours on a first-come, first-served basis can be a lever for reducing some forms of systemic bias. Office hours are not just an opportunity for mentorship but a chance to deploy resources against real needs, whether that is using social capital to make a referral or financial capital to provide pilot funding and even essentials like food and interview clothing.
For 2023, we’re going to concentrate on the scalability of our impact by addressing two key shortcomings:
Reusable content. Reviewing our Vowel recordings from this year, it is clear that I’m spending a tremendous amount of time answering very similar questions. We’re working on everything from written guides and short videos to a chatbot trained on the office hour transcripts to make sure that we can serve more people. I don’t intend to spend less time doing office hours but hopefully these solutions allow us to concentrate that time on increasingly personal questions and specific situations.
Increased tooling. While the ability to distribute Vowel recordings and shared notes has been a tremendous help to individual participants, process improvements like the job tracker have allowed us to more quickly provide asynchronous help in the moments when people need it most. Rather than confining our impact to the office hours, we’re going to intensify our tooling, ranging from lightweight spreadsheets to custom web-based calculators, in order to create new scaffolding for people to help themselves.
I fundamentally believe that transparency helps drive accountability and accountability allows for autonomy. My hope is to be able to offer an updated diversity report yearly for as long as I am able to continue doing office hours at this pace and with this team. As I mentioned earlier, I’m open to questions and feedback on the analysis, as well as suggestions on what commitments you’d like me to make; just shoot me an email.
Side Note: When I released the diversity report for 2021, I wrote “Sometimes, doing the right thing feels absolutely ridiculous”. In August of 2022, I left my global executive role at CapGemini because they refused to release basic diversity data. Putting myself out of work during a recession feels like one of those ridiculous things and I am acutely aware of the privilege that allowed me to do it. But accountability matters. Working toward change from within a company is important but when business leaders refuse outright to even consider change, it is time to go. So I’m going to keep releasing these reports yearly and I hope CapGemini and others consider doing the same.