“Inclusion@Climate: Sowing the Seeds of Belonging” is a feature created by The Climate Corporation’s Inclusion & Diversity team to highlight the diverse backgrounds of our employees as well as their achievements, passions, and personalities. We hope you’ll enjoy learning more about their contributions to Climate and to our community, and think you’ll agree that the very best elements of our culture are our Climateers themselves.
The third entry in this series is a conversation with Simon Carney, Design Operations Manager in our Product division.
The Climate Corporation (Climate): You’ve been leading Design Operations for our Product team for about a year now - what is it about this role that satisfies you most?
Simon Carney (SC): This role has given me the opportunity to flex my design skills in a non-traditional way. I’ve also had a chance to influence the culture of the design team in a role that’s not customer-facing and not project leadership, and so able to look at and elevate the team’s contributions as a whole.
I’ve had to work on my bias on what a good design process looks like. I’ve put in 25 years, so there are some things I learned in school that apply, but it’s not really how we talk about them now. I never expected to have to rethink design processes and leading in this space!
Climate: Can you define the day-to-day of design operations a bit more?
SC: A design team has the people management, the craft - the actual user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) for features - and you have operations: the skills that the team needs, the gaps. This year we did an assessment of how we think about job architecture and levels and skills against certain competencies. It forced us all on a personal level to be honest with ourselves and to answer how we’d rank ourselves in our lives and careers.
It’s really about the care and feeding of our teams as a whole, and the tech industry has historically struggled to foster that continuous learning, or even have a concerted effort around thinking about where we are and what we should be talking about. I really love that part of the job.
Climate: Is there anything in particular about your career past that has influenced how you think about the care and feeding of teams?
SC: I’ve spent most of my career being the only Black employee, and most times also being the only gay employee, even in San Francisco. I really didn’t think about the implications of needing a more diverse workplace, because we were initially just focused on trying to learn the technology.
I was at a design conference in New York in 2017 and noticed there weren’t a lot of Black people attending. There were three other guys - the only other Black men that you could actually see - that I ended up gravitating towards during the first lunch. This group of six young Black men from historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) had approached us and identified - through an impressive amount of research - attendees from companies that needed attention on diversity and inclusion.
That conference was the first time, in working twenty years in the field, that I realized that it was important for others to see themselves. I had never really imagined that identity would be so important that they would be bold enough to ask the question, “As someone who’s young and Black, how do I get a job?”
So, from that moment, I’ve never thought about it the same way, and I could not continue to assume that it was unimportant to see representation. And to tie it all back, when I identified that Design Operations would give me the opportunity to be part of the care and feeding of a team, that was part of what clicked. In this role I could help craft criteria so that as we’re looking at candidates, we’re judging them on all the same things.
Climate: The pre-work that must have been involved, and the passion behind it, the drive, the influence it had on you also - it’s a pretty impressive pivotal moment for you.
SC: Yeah, yeah - because it’s not just about me, you know? There was a billboard on the subway that I saw recently citing that in ten years there’s going to be a need for 1.4 million people in tech, and that there are only three or four hundred thousand people who are trained to fill those positions. That’s a big jump!
Climate: How do we need to move forward in thinking about that big jump, about representation, and how tech needs to progress toward more inclusion?
SC: I don’t know if I can overstate the importance of being identified and accepted within your individual identity, and recognizing that it goes both ways. At this point, it’s not about my need to see others; it’s about others being able to see that there’s a me. The conversation we had earlier in the Summer [ed: in July, Climate facilitated an open discussion session for all employees to discuss our responses to the Movement for Black Lives] to come together and discuss the uncertainty is a perfect example - as protests got worse, a venue to help us understand each other’s perspective was really fantastic, and me getting to facilitate that conversation was an honor.
The fact that I didn’t necessarily need to see myself as I was coming up, that I was in an environment and location that allowed me to try something new without my race or identity being a barrier, is when trailblazing happens. I was free of the preconceived notions of what being Black meant. I jokingly said at one point that I knew all twelve Black people working in tech. But we only count for a small amount. Most folks will have unconscious bias, systemic issues, and management that’s not trained on inclusion, and those barriers need to come down.
There is a need for that big, growing number of people in tech from all walks of life, it’s so much broader than the few of us who are still working in it right now. More representation absolutely has to happen.