three women sitting around a conference table listening to a conversation. They are all women of color, with different hairstyles.

Consistency And Clarity: How DevRel Leaders Make Inclusion A Priority

Leaders in the developer relations (DevRel) space focus on creating lively, encouraging, and valuable online communities for users of their product, but any space they create has to address inclusivity on all fronts. This means addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) as a core pillar of any DevRel program.

DevRel leaders need to ensure to the best of their ability that these spaces are always encompassing and reflective of all individuals in the developer role. And they also need to not ascribe to the narrow construct of who a developer can be.

I recently connected with two DevRel leaders to discuss DEI initiatives they’ve implemented in their own communities, and why they think such efforts should be front of mind for anyone in the DevRel field. Both Knut Melvær, head of developer relations at Sanity.io, and Bianca St. Louis, developer community advocate at Twilio have been deliberately and consistently committed to DEI in their respective companies.

How DevRel leaders can implement DEI IRL

Bianca has a wealth of experience working on growth, equity, and impact initiatives at places like Pinterest, a16z, and others. And in her opinion, DEI in DevRel isn’t necessarily new. “Lots of people were thinking about it,” she said. “But I don’t think they had the tools or knowledge base to implement it.”

Using tried and true methods to create communities or bolster existing ones, both her and Knut shared their strategies for promoting diverse, equitable, and inclusive developer relations. These are five of the many ways DevRel leaders can use to make tech better reflect all existing and aspiring developers.

1. Spotlight successes of underrepresented community members

For Knut, the importance of DEI in DevRel was obvious from day one. The BLM movement of 2020 affirmed the necessity of DEI initiatives across the corporate landscape.

“We didn’t want to just say thoughts and prayers—we wanted to commit to something. The best way to commit to something is to dedicate resources to it,” said Knut. “That’s why we hired Lauren Etheridge, a developer relations specialist, highlighting DEI as part of their responsibilities.”

For him, promoting diversity in developer relations called for expanding people’s conception of who and what a developer looks like. Diversity starts with representation. When people see others who look and sound like themselves in positions they aspire to, they are more able to identify with that future and imagine it for themselves.

To make this a dedicated goal for Sanity.io, the DevRel team brings in speakers from underrepresented groups to speak at Sanity.io’s monthly developer meetup events.

2. Expand and diversify your outreach

Cultivating a community generally requires intention and awareness. Regardless of where you’re at on your journey there are always opportunities to build more expansive and vibrant developer communities. Building developer communities that are inherently diverse requires deliberate outreach and meeting people where they’re at. Relying on one space, like LinkedIn for example, can be inherently limiting. Different communities have different places they like to gather—which is the same in both real life and the digital realm. Take time to figure out where these places may be.

Don’t limit yourself to LinkedIn, says Bianca. She recommends looking at Twitter, Slack, or Twitch as platforms that host vibrant, active, and diverse communities.

3. Create a living, breathing code of conduct

As you build and expand your communities it’s important to set the tone around the culture you want to create. A tool that is often used is a code of conduct. A code of conduct is easy to describe, but can be hard to implement—especially if people don’t know where or how to find it.

“Codes of conduct need to be living documents,” Bianca said. “Their intention is to be a guide for expected behavior and community.”

The code of conduct enforces the values and ethos by holding all community members to the same standard.

A healthy culture is only achieved if a code of conduct is respected, and this only happens if it’s presented in a way that’s accessible. This means both in the language (and languages) used and how and where it’s presented.

Oftentimes, a set of rules that community members are required to scroll through once during sign-up won’t be enough to enforce standards of behaviors and hold people accountable. Community members should encounter it often. Those in the community should be reminded that they have the power to positively or negatively contribute to the culture. Codes of conduct need to show the impact, says Bianca. You also want the code of conduct to be not only very specific, but constantly reviewed and updated regularly. Including examples of what is and isn’t acceptable helps clear ambiguity as well.

4. Encourage developers from non-traditional backgrounds

Not everyone needs a degree to be a developer. People come to the profession from a wide range of backgrounds, and it’s possible that for members of your community, a formal education wasn’t an option.

Building an environment that’s inclusive of anyone regardless of educational background is front of mind in Knut’s approach to DevRel. He doesn’t want people to feel hesitant to ask for the help they need, and to create a welcoming space devoid of gatekeeping.

“We have a ‘Getting Started’ channel on our Slack that makes it clear that you can be at any level,” said Knut, “the Sanity team answering questions that are super simple to show others that we would help you with that, no matter where you are in your development journey. It is a great way to model inclusive community behavior.”

5. Learn to maintain relationships at scale

When a community grows quickly, it’ll become hard—if not nearly impossible—to respond to everyone in a timely fashion. Unfortunately with fast growth, you can run the risk of losing the kind of interactions that people joined for in the first place.

You also have to be mindful about how you scale. Consider creating a subgroup of champions in your community to help reinforce the values and culture you’re looking to create. Bianca suggested trying an ambassador-type program, where you can engage in more targeted ways.

There’s every reason in the world for real DEI

In 2022, we’ve moved past ambiguous statements of support, and it’s both refreshing and encouraging to see tech companies put resources behind actionable DEI initiatives.

But DEI isn’t just good for society, it’s good for business.

Knut put it simply. “We think DEI is the right thing to do. It makes sense with the startup growth lens on it too,” he said. “If you exclude people from your product, it’s lost growth. You shouldn’t need that as a reason, but it is.”

At the end of the day, creating valuable online community spaces requires diversity, equity, and inclusivity to become a mindset in every human interaction your community facilitates. Though no set of initiatives can change a collective mindset overnight, it certainly provides a tangible starting point.

“Sometimes you just have to pause and say is it DEI or do I just need to remember that I’m a human talking to other humans?” said Bianca. “At its core, it’s [just] humans talking to humans.”

Kaitlyn Henry
Kaitlyn Henry
Vice President at OpenView

Kaitlyn is responsible for identifying, evaluating and executing on investment opportunities. She also manages OpenView’s diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. Prior to joining OpenView, Kaitlyn worked at Amazon across multiple growth and business development roles. Most recently, she was a senior financial analyst for Amazon’s machine learning group, where she oversaw Amazon’s consumer engagement ML projects worldwide. She has also served as an advisor to early-stage technical founders through her work at the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, an accelerator in Central California.
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