Helping to Build a More Inclusive Internet
Cloudflare is an Internet infrastructure and security firm, founded in 2009 by Matthew Prince, Michelle Zatlyn, and Lee Holloway. It has the ambitious mission of helping to build a better Internet through its work securing and improving the Internet presence of its global client base. Cloudflare currently has over 1,600 employees across 15 locations including San Francisco (HQ), Austin, TX, London, Lisbon, Singapore, and Beijing.
Cloudflare’s work on inclusion in the last two years has been important preparation for the Covid-19 era in which the world is transforming at an accelerated rate, and is waking up – often via digital methods – to systemic racism and inequalities.
By debiasing coding terminology and language and, soon, rethink- ing product design, is pushing the agenda to build leadership innovation. This will help to support their mission of helping to build a better Internet.
Global and diverse
Cloudflare has a diverse global leadership team, and are also making progress in their local locations. In the London office, for example, they have shifted from a small, nearly all-male team at launch in 2013 to a highly diverse workforce in 2020.
In this context, inclusion takes on a key role both for Cloudflare and in the tech sector more broadly. As Cloudflare’s Chief Technology Officer (CTO) John Graham-Cumming told us, tech businesses exist to innovate. But to innovate creatively, you need diversity of thought and experience. The benefits are therefore self-evident.
We know that when inclusive thinking is missing in tech, there can be damaging consequences. See driverless cars that bump into black people more often than white people, or automatic hand taps that don’t detect darker skin tones, or the long-standing use of racially problematic coding language. The goal for Cloudflare is to help overcome these blind spots by building inclusive innovation into the fab- ric of what they do. And the first step to building an innovative tech company that’s diverse and inclusive is to ensure the leadership team is the same.
Included started working with Cloudflare’s EMEA team in 2019 to help better embed D&I into the work of their leadership populations. Cloudflare had already made great strides on their journey by looking at recruitment, internal targets, and creating effective ERGs. They wanted to go to the next level – reframing inclusion as a business imperative as well as a critical HR issue – to truly embed inclusion in the work they do, and ultimately to help create a better Internet.
With Included supporting, Cloudflare introduced a 3-month inclusive leadership programme for its EMEA leadership team, and inclusive leadership touchpoints for other layers of the organisation, to help leaders understand, lead, and deliver on inclusion. John told us that the personalised approach of the inclusive leadership work conducted with Included has been very well appreciated by the Cloudflare team.
Following the George Floyd tragedy in May 2020 and subsequent global protests for equality, Cloudflare ran a company-wide full day initiative in June featuring external speakers on race and inclusion. Almost every global employee attended or participated in some way.
The business has also taken the step of starting a conversation about and then reforming their coding languages and terminologies, removing racial or offensive wording like ‘whitelist’, ‘blacklist’, ‘master’, ‘slave’, ‘sanity check’, ‘blackhat’, ‘whitehat’, ‘guys’, and ‘kill’ from organisational use. In this way Cloud- flare have acted on debiasing and deracialising the actual engineering processes that sit at the core of what they do. These are great measures of the work that Cloudflare has conducted, and of the extent to which their global workforce is engaged on inclu- sion.
On representation within the business, Cloudflare has also taken enormous strides. John reflected on a photograph of the London office launch several years ago that showed the first 30 hires, all but one of whom were men. There was little tracking of diversity statistics. Now, there is wide diversity not only in the UK but across its global offices.
Had they not acted, the London office would likely have grown as an undiverse and less inclusive group. And whilst John thinks that internal pressure may have ultimately led to change, Cloudflare is in a much better place for acting proactively on D&I. Given the events of 2020, the importance of this has only increased.
Whilst progress has been impressive, there are still more exciting times ahead for Cloudflare – both in general terms and in its journey to truly debias and embed inclusion in the fabric of its engineering work. One thing that is clear is that Covid-19 has further pushed the world towards digital, including home working and home schooling. For Cloudflare, more people actively using the Internet means even more responsibility, and even more incentive to get inclusion right. We’re looking forward to checking in again with John and the team next year, to see how the steps taken on inclusive leadership have continued to impact their work.
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