Categories: Leadership

Intentional allyship: Meet three of Mozilla’s first Inclusion Champions

At Mozilla, we understand that our companywide commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) requires allyship at every level — both within our Mozilla Resource Groups (Afrozillians, Disability@Mozilla, Pridezilla, Latin Pride, Mozilla API, and Women of Mozilla) and beyond. That’s why we recently launched a new initiative, Inclusion Champions. The Mozillians participating in this program commit to six months of multimodal learning engagements in which they build the knowledge, skills, and confidence to promote and support DEI throughout our organization.

Below, Sarah Bird (Staff Software Engineer), Nicole Bjelica (Senior Program Manager), and Jeff Klukas (Senior Staff Data Engineer) share their experiences during the early days of the inaugural Inclusion Champions program, including what they’ve learned so far and the challenges and opportunities they’re looking forward to — not only as their meetings continue, but long after they wind up.

Why did you want to get involved in Inclusion Champions?

Sarah: As soon as the email came out about it, I was like, “Yes, I must do this.” As a woman, I’m part of an underrepresented group in tech; as a white woman, I’m someone with a huge amount of privilege, too. I’m also outspoken, and I’ve raised these issues before at Mozilla. But I’m an engineer, not a DEI professional. I wanted to learn to better channel those frustrations, and say things in a way that’s more likely to actually bring change.

It was also an opportunity to work through some of the anxious energy I feel, and I think a lot of us feel, around saying the wrong thing — to get over that awkwardness of “Should I say something? How should I say it?” Just stewing in that isn’t constructive, and this is a safe space to grow.

Nicole: Inclusion is a big part of my job at Mozilla​​ — as it is for everyone, but as a program manager I’m building a UX community of practice, and the biggest part of that process is defining the culture we want to have. A community is basically a hub for sharing knowledge, so it’s critical that people feel comfortable and heard. The Inclusion Champions program seemed like a great way to learn some best practices that will help me foster that kind of environment, and make sure we are hearing all of the diverse voices that exist in Mozilla’s UX community. I talked to my manager about joining, and she was extremely supportive, so I signed up.

Jeff: As I’ve moved up to a more senior level within the data organization and the Engineering team, I’ve started to recognize the cultural influence I have — and I’ve been thinking about how to use that to promote positive change. We want this to be a welcoming environment, especially as we’re onboarding new people. All people should feel like they’re able to be who they really are at work. But that doesn’t just happen. You have to put in some effort to build those skills and ensure you’re getting the feedback you should. So I was really excited about this program as a way to focus on that work, and be with other people thinking through similar things.

What kinds of activities do you do, and what have you learned?

Nicole: The D&I team, who started the group, have shared some great content — they brought in a speaker to help us recognize microaggressions, we have modules where we read and reflect, and we journal about situations that we’ve experienced or that might happen in the workplace, and how we can react. A lot of it is just conversation; I’ve been spending most of the time listening and learning.

We’re a pretty large cohort — about 20 people — so I think breaking into smaller groups has been especially valuable. You get to know your colleagues better, and hear perspectives that are different from yours. We had an interesting discussion about using a Harry Potter reference in a presentation, for example. One person might decide against that, even though they’re a fan, because of what the author has said about the trans community. Someone else might say that there are still themes in the books that are valuable, and they can separate the art from the artist. I appreciate that there’s space for both of those people to share their thoughts, and being able to hear different perspectives has been an eye-opening experience for me.

Sarah: It’s a very safe space to ask questions — both the meetings, and our Slack channel. One example I’ve shared started with a recent all-company meeting, when two men who were new to the organization introduced themselves and mentioned how tall they were. Through the lens of gender and dominance, that felt weird to me, and I started a lighthearted discussion about it on the Women of Mozilla channel. But when I brought it up in Inclusion Champions, one of our members pointed out that as a Black woman, she regularly called attention to the height of tall men in her family — because just that physical presence can lead them into harmful situations. That recontextualized the feelings I’d had during the company meeting, especially given that one of the speakers was a Black man. I’d initiated a jokey conversation but then I realized everyone participating was white. I was grateful for the perspective from the inclusion champions, and that I was able to share this non-white perspective with the Women of Mozilla channel.

Jeff: I think what’s been most valuable to me is that we’re all watching each other fail. In our conversations about microaggressions, for example, we’ve talked about how using words like “crazy” and “insane” can be harmful to people who have mental illness. I’ve struggled to do better on that; those words have been part of my vernacular. So it’s a great relief when, even in this cohort of people who care deeply about inclusion and set aside time to learn, someone else uses that language and then calls themself out on it. It reminds me we are all going to fail and that’s okay, and it sets an example for how to recover with grace. We even wrote that down — one of the first activities we did together was developing the agreements that guide our discussions, and one of them is that we will be mindful about harmful language and correct ourselves when we catch it. That’s such great practice. To do better, you have to be willing to talk about doing better in the first place.

Tell us a little more about the agreements the group made.

Nicole: They’re essentially principles for how we interact — for example, practicing deep listening, really hearing what someone’s saying rather than with an intent to respond. We also try to avoid interrupting. We try to use inclusive language, as Jeff mentioned. We assume best intentions and acknowledge that everyone is human and we’re all learning all the time. We own the impact we have — on each other and ultimately on the organization. And we do our best to avoid assuming universal truths — we’re mindful of whether we’re stating opinions rather than facts, and we use “I” terms in those cases. I think the beauty of our agreements is that they don’t say, “Your values must be this.” They say, “This is how we talk together and share our perspectives.”

What’s challenging for you right now, in terms of inclusion?

Jeff: Something I worry about is how to effectively translate what we’re accomplishing here when we’re outside the confines of this space. When you fail to be inclusive or say something that’s hurtful and you’re a relatively senior person, you’re not necessarily going to hear about that — giving constructive feedback can be difficult in any case, but especially when power dynamics are involved. So that’s definitely something I want to work on through this group. The more I can develop that trust and build those communication channels, the more I set up a cycle of being able to improve.

Sarah: Related to that, what’s top of mind for me is effecting change in my seniors — not just my manager, who in my case is also in our cohort, but their managers and so on. With a peer or someone more junior, I’m pretty comfortable having a one-on-one conversation and calling out an issue. I can say, “Hey, this happened. We can do better, and I’m here to support you in that process.” If someone’s in a leadership role or setting the tone in a meeting, though, how do I encourage them to improve on these measures? I don’t have an answer for that, but that’s what I hope this group will help me learn.

Nicole: The challenge is creating space for folks to bring their authentic selves to work every day — it’s a vital part of building culture and community—while also keeping those communities safe. Of course, this shows up in my personal life, too, when I’m trying to build bridges between friends with divergent values. I want to make sure I do that in the right way, and it’s one of the reasons I joined this group.

It’s also on my mind that we don’t know what the state of DEI will look like 10 years from now — we don’t know if we’re doing this right. Hopefully, most of what we’re building here will land correctly, but some things might not. I think the key is just to be thoughtful, so I can be confident that whatever work I leave behind comes from the right place.

What are you looking forward to as you continue with Inclusion Champions?

Nicole: I joined this group with the goal of learning to build a culture that is inclusive of all voices, but this is a journey of continuous learning — I’m not going to leave with all the answers. I think what I’m looking forward to most is seeing how Inclusion Champions evolves, and how our ideas develop around building stronger communities. And then what it looks like when we’re going back out into Mozilla and the rest of the world to use these tools on our own.

Sarah: Absolutely — our agreements talk about how we won’t necessarily get immediate closure, and that’s something I struggle with. It’s hard for me to open a can of worms, and then just leave them on the floor and look at them! But it’s important to learn. So I’m looking forward to getting more comfortable with that, and then socializing it with other people who are like me in that way — which includes a lot of engineers, I think.

I’m also looking forward to being sort of a ready response team as we continue to build our ability to act in the moment — that’s another thing I struggle with, and I feel like a lot of people do. Right now, I’m focusing on building my own skills, and learning what an appropriate response looks like in different situations. But as I become a better practitioner, I can pass that along.

Jeff: I think this is just one part of a larger journey for each of us. Similar to what Sarah said, I’m increasing my confidence and getting over the self-doubt of when and how to speak up. For that, a program like this is materially better than reading a bunch of things, because you’re having conversations and developing firsthand experience with hard conversations.

In terms of the group itself, we’re thinking of these six months in two phases — right now, we’re focused on learning and interacting, processing information together. In the second half of the program, we’re going to move more into action, including deciding on a concrete contribution we want to make to Mozilla, whether that’s a project like a resource library or something else. But even at this early stage, I think the very existence of the group is making a difference. Certainly that’s true for those of us in the cohort, but I’ve also talked with several people who saw in an email that I’m participating and wondered how it’s going. Just knowing that DEI work is happening at the company and that your colleagues are connected to it — that’s part of how we start the conversation.