Florence Chabanois on Creating a Diverse and Inclusive Work Environment
In the tech industry, diversity and inclusivity have been long-standing challenges. Head of Engineering Florence Chabanois understands the importance of creating a work environment that celebrates differences and the role of management in addressing inclusion issues. With over a decade of experience in tech, Florence shares her insights on team management, onboarding new members, accommodating microcultures, and more.
Florence Chabanois is the head of engineering for Transversal Teams at Scaleway. To become Europe’s top cloud provider, Scaleway’s ecosystem includes a long list of services made up of data centers, serverless architecture, managed services, bare metal solutions, and more. Florence plays a prominent role in fulfilling this objective; currently, she supervises over 40 people, including developers and engineering and project managers.
Agile transversal teams such as Florence’s bring together individuals from different departments to collaborate on specific projects or tasks to increase collaboration, creativity, and efficiency. Consequently, effective management and coordination are essential for these teams to function smoothly.
Onboarding and alignment
Growing companies recruit employees to form new teams or expand old ones. The challenge is getting new team members to accustom themselves to the organization’s culture while also giving them the confidence to raise their own voices. On the other hand, old employees need to readjust to the reorganization of their teams.
According to Florence, newcomers will adapt more easily, since they don’t have any prior working habits in the company to leave behind, something old employees will need to do. However, she also emphasized the importance of letting newcomers know about the company’s history, learning what worked when it was smaller, and what ideas have already been put into practice. This knowledge will help the team have a different point of view and a deeper understanding of how the company operates and what has and has not been tested.
From a broad perspective, Florence understands that alignment between all parties of a company is what will make it succeed; from team members to the CPO, the company needs to be aligned about what they want to achieve and how they want to achieve it. Since communication is the only way to ensure everyone is on the same page, it should be done repeatedly to ensure the message goes through. “I heard that we have to repeat something at least three times so that maybe it’ll be heard once,” Florence says.
When screening for new hires, Florence looks for soft skills, such as interpersonal communication abilities. While in the past she focused more on technical skills, she believes these can be acquired eventually. while soft skills are harder to learn.
In like manner, Florence calls for finding potential good teammates and avoiding toxic people from the start. Applying this principle is even more important in companies like hers where teams are made of people from all over the world and with different native languages. “The ability to learn things is important, and to change, to adapt, rather than the fact that you know the language by heart,” Florence affirms.
Therefore, screening questions should inquire candidates about what they would do to make sure everyone feels safe and how they could contribute to creating a happy working environment. The ideal work environment should respect the authenticity and identity of each team member. “It’s about how we include and how we develop tools for everyone, instead of always the same category of people,” Florence concludes.
The role of managers: Helping teams succeed through direction and communication
Florence believes that the role of a manager can be summed up as helping others. In other words, “you have a less direct impact and more human things to deal with,” she says. While helping the team can sometimes take the form of menial tasks such as preparing coffee, managers should excel at helping their teams by providing direction and making decisions.
What’s more, managers should look after team members and ensure they feel comfortable and encouraged to speak up and contribute. “It can be about being loud, but it’s about being heard,” Florence says. In this regard, she recommends enabling different communication channels, such as written documentation or one-on-ones, so each one can choose to communicate in the way they find most suitable.
For those engineers who are moving towards managerial roles such as project manager or head of engineering and want to learn how to approach leadership, Florence recommends reading “Radical Candor” by Kim Scott. The book emphasizes building solid relationships with team members and providing clear, compassionate feedback while offering practical advice and actionable strategies for effective management. When Florence started as a manager, Radical Candor helped her figure out how being nice or listening to people didn’t conflict with her role as a figure of authority.
On the other hand, Florence’s biggest advice for those soon to become managers is “to belong to a network and to have peers to exchange with.” In this way, you can learn from those who have experience in the job and can let you know if it is something that you want to do.
The impact of organizational culture
An organization’s culture has a significant impact on the success of its software engineering teams. When successfully written and communicated, it will lead to better collaboration, innovation, accountability, and continuous learning.
However, the culture of the whole organization can be at odds with the microculture created and sustained by a department, a whole team, or part of it. Both should coexist harmoniously. Florence believes that if individuals were more proud of their unique perspectives, they could create a more inclusive product and attract a more diverse clientele. However, she notes that often people feel ashamed of their differences, which hinders their ability to communicate and collaborate effectively.
Florence affirms that accommodating different opinions isn’t a matter of holding group discussions, but one-on-ones since this is “where you can have an opportunity to know people better and what’s important for them.” Due to their importance, one-on-ones should be maintained even while working remotely. In this regard, nowadays there are emerging tools for getting remote employees to know each other and interact more casually. Still, Florence is wary of these tools, arguing that they can’t replace what meeting face-to-face creates. For this reason, Scaleway, despite having a policy for working fully remotely, also has a policy in which employees have to go to the office at least once a month. At the same time, Florence also encourages outdoor activities, such as walking. In any case, she believes it is necessary “to really think outside the box instead of taking things that we know at work.”
Withal, despite it being crucial to respect different opinions, these can’t oppose the culture of the organization. In this regard, someone whose views differ radically from the organizations’, such as racist views, won’t have a place in it.
Florence’s message is especially relevant in the tech industry, which has historically struggled with diversity and inclusivity. By acknowledging and celebrating differences, tech companies can create a more innovative and creative work environment, which will ultimately lead to better products and services. Florence’s feedback loop concept emphasizes the importance of continuously seeking feedback from diverse perspectives to find better solutions and a more successful business overall.
To this end, companies need to create a work environment in which their employees can speak their minds about the product they are working on. Florence understands feedback is a gift since it wants to improve things and change something that the person disagrees with. However, it should be noted that giving feedback takes courage, even more so if you’re a minority. Florence asks organizational cultures to be open to feedback and encourage it by being thankful and open about appreciating it.
The bottom line
As part of her feminist works and inclusion in the software industry, Florence is part of DuchessFrance, Tech.Rocks, and La Place Des Grenouilles communities. You can follow Florence on Twitter and Mastodon.