Transforming Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Culture

Developer Support

When we started the Premier Developer blog, we wanted it to be a reflection of our team and business.  Unlike many Microsoft blogs that focus on one technology or product, you may notice we cover a lot of ground here.  Sometimes post topics are technical in nature, sometimes they are purely business or process focused.  Perhaps the most important variables in everything we do:  people.  Highly productive teams learn how to work well together and the importance of diverse, respectful workplace will absolutely impact productivity.  Software development is more than technology.  In this post, we’re happy to spotlight a post from our Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) leads, Farah Deendar, Tamara Maniscalco, and Tina Saulsberry about our commitment to a better workplace.

What can we be doing to promote a diverse and inclusive environment for our teams?  In this post, we share some insight from our own business and challenge you to reflect on D&I in your workplace.

Why is diversity so important?

treeMicrosoft is committed to promoting a diverse culture and productively working with people from all walks of life. This is evident in Microsoft’s mission statement “to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.”

The reason that diversity is so important to us as a business is that it makes us better able to execute and innovate as shown by the following research:  From this article we can see that if a team is culturally diverse, they perform better and create more ground breaking research than homogenous teams.

We know anecdotally that when people are committed to a goal, and they respect and work well with other competent team members, great things will result.  We have all seen this in practice. Microsoft employs more than 100,000 employees globally, across many different countries and cultures. The technology and business world is becoming more diverse, and it’s important to remember that unconscious bias is still very prevalent.

Here are some examples of unconscious bias:

  • Taller men are favored in debates – for example, the platform height is adjusted in Presidential debates to negate this unconscious bias.
  • Attractive people are judged to be more competent upon initial meeting than unattractive people.
  • Identical resumes given different ethnic candidate names are judged completely differently by evaluators.
  • Symphony orchestra auditions favored men until the candidates performed behind a screen, then many more women were chosen in blind auditions.

How are we transforming our culture?

Premier Developer is pioneering in transforming Microsoft’s D&I culture. We have a team of passionate leaders that are working arduously to move the D&I dial forward through several new initiatives:

Stand United

Stand United is an initiative focused on transforming our team culture by embracing the question, “Whose responsibility is to help raise diversity and inclusion awareness? ”  It emphasizes:

  • Awareness (we stand united on societal injustices that affect the moral fiber of our employees)
  • Empathy
  • Support
  • External Reflection

Society has taught us that we should not talk about sexual orientation, religion, politics or race in a professional environment.  Our D&I team looks to break down these barriers in favor of a more diverse and inclusive environment.  We are interested in understanding one another.  Most employees discuss these issues with friends, family and loved ones but why not discuss these issues at work where we spend a good portion of our life?  Why not seek to understand one another?

If someone on our team suffered a personal loss, we would show that person empathy and work to support them, so why not work to support the teammate affected by D&I issues?

We follow similar steps when preparing and leading a D&I discussion:

  • Select a topic that brings about culture awareness and that is also impacting our company, community, team member or a current event.
  • Prepare the environment by setting some expectations and creating a safe judgement free zone. We cannot have an honest discussion if we don’t feel safe, or in a safe environment. Try to cultivate an environment where the team feels secure to be themselves and to talk freely. We are earnestly seeking to understand other points of views. These discussions are not meant to change anyone but bring about awareness, learning, and sharing.
  • Introduce the topic with supporting material.  We use multimedia, and reference materials to further illustrate the subject. Satya and other Microsoft leaders often play a supporting role by incorporating their messaging, quotes and videos.  Our company initiatives and goals also provide excellent supporting material.
  • Provide leading questions to get the conversation rolling and invite others to share their story.  Have you experienced <topic>?  Do you know of someone who’s been impacted by <topic>?  “What could we do to create a more nurturing and inclusive environment?” are great leading questions.
  • Be prepared for silence. It is okay as some topics are tough to discuss. We are willing to go first, be transparent, and communicate how this topic has impacted us or others we know.  We moderate the discussion keeping the focus on learning, empathy, and understanding different experiences and points of view.  It is our responsibility to make sure the discussion remains non-threatening and that everyone that wants to share is heard.
  • Conclude the discussion by establishing take-aways and action items on how to create a more inviting, diverse and inclusive environment.  Challenge the team on what part can each play as individuals or as an organization.  Communicate supportive (internal or external) resources.

Some topics we have discussed as Premier D&I leads:

  • Discovering our unique strengths with Strengths Finders 2.0
  • Personal D&I stories
  • Unconscious Bias
  • National divide after the presidential election
  • Gender discrimination in IT

Women in Developer Wine Wednesdays

With a focus on talent retention, Microsoft Women’s Wine Wednesdays is a virtual social forum that started within Premier Developer and expanded to other women across our services organization to share our passions at work and outside, and help support each other to be successful at Microsoft.  The forum was such a huge success in year 2016, that three key initiatives have been added for 2017.

  1. Guest Speaker series once a quarter
  2. Mothers Returning to work (Support Initiative)
  3. Hiring Women in Premier Support for Developers

Job Description and Candidate Screening

With a focus on talent hiring, we established a Screening Squad as a group of diverse Application Development Managers who interview incoming candidates and make an extra effort to ensure candidates feel welcome at Microsoft.  If the candidate has a diversity characteristic the interviewer chosen is someone who shares that characteristic, if possible.  The Screening Squad group works with hiring teams from other regions (e.g. – Canada and Latin America) to ensure that we are considering diversity in our hiring process in all of the geographies that we establish teams.  Our intention is to create a strong pool of applicants from which we choose the best candidate.

Our Job Description team worked to make our job description appeal to the broadest possible audience, so that we can attract the best candidates.  We use software to ensure that job description verbiage is inviting to the broadest set of potential candidates.  We also work to narrow down the actual requirements of the position, instead of including a long list of skills that would be nice to have but were not strictly required.

D&I Newsletter

Building and nurturing a diverse and inclusive culture is a core value for Premier Developer.  It is good for the business and as equally important, contributes to the positive health of our organization.  There are always opportunities for continuous growth to promote a diverse and inclusive culture in any work environment.  The Premier Developer Diversity & Inclusion Newsletter is a quarterly communication that highlights the D&I work being done within PSfD and serves as a platform for D&I news across Microsoft and in the industry.

Promoting DigiGirlz/STEM in our Schools

With any profession, a diverse workforce starts by inspiring future generations at a young age to embrace their passions and promote talent growth.  Microsoft is proud to host DigiGirlz High Tech Camp which works to dispel stereotypes of the high-tech industry and help girls learn about careers in technology, connect with Microsoft employees, and participate in hands-on computer and technology workshops . We continue to look for opportunities to give young ladies a chance to experience, firsthand, what it is like to be a part of and to develop cutting-edge technology.  DigiGirlz is a 100% volunteer and employee led event from Microsoft.


We are well underway in executing our D&I strategy in 2017 and our hope to bring these successful initiatives to the broader domain within Microsoft.   We challenge you to consider diversity and inclusion in your workplace.  Learn more about Diversity and Inclusion at Microsoft here.


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