How This Local Engineering Manager Embraces Inclusive Leadership

With an open-minded approach, this leader gives everyone the space to make their voices heard.
Written by Olivia McClure
June 21, 2021Updated: June 21, 2021

Collaboration is essential on engineering teams; it helps build a sense of community, gives everyone the chance to share their unique skills and establishes clear expectations. But in order for collaboration to occur, teammates must feel a sense of belonging.

In many cases, it’s up to engineering leaders to ensure that inclusion is a defining feature of their teams. Yet, that doesn’t mean there’s one right way to cultivate a more welcoming environment. 

As an engineering manager at healthcare benefits provider Collective Health, Dan Perron takes an open-minded approach to build inclusion. In order to make sure each of his teammates’ voices are heard, he said he makes a point to unpack what his coworkers are communicating, rather than take their comments at face value. 

“When someone is coming into a conversation with a different perspective and context, it might take extra work to understand what they're really saying, but it's worth it in the end,” Perron said.

For Perron, inclusion is all about prioritizing clear communication across the team, allowing everyone’s thoughts and opinions to be fully understood and acknowledged. 

Built In Chicago checked in with Perron to learn how he practices inclusive leadership. 

 

Dan Perron
Engineering Manager

From your experience, what is the key to being an inclusive leader?

You must listen to all of the voices on your team and make sure they're heard. It's critical to have an open mind and unpack what is being communicated rather than just taking comments at face value. When someone is coming into a conversation with a different perspective and context, it might take extra work to understand what they're really saying, but it's worth it in the end.

What's a real-life example of your inclusive leadership style in action?

While discussing a design on my team, I noticed that one team member was trying to steer the discussion toward a part of the system that I thought we had talked about and agreed on. Rather than shutting down the discussion and moving on, we engaged her concerns and listened. She described some scenarios that we hadn't considered that would have required a lot of additional work from our partners on the operations teams. Discussing these scenarios in depth allowed us to rethink the design and come up with something that might not have been as tidy from an engineering perspective but ended up being a better design for all of our stakeholders.

 

You must listen to all of the voices on your team and make sure they're heard.”

 

What steps have you taken to identify and address your own blind spots and biases, and what impact has that had on the way you lead?

Whenever I'm absorbing a concept, technical or otherwise, that is outside of my comfort zone, I try to repeat back what I've heard in my own language. Anyone who's worked with me for more than a few weeks is used to me saying, "OK, I think what I heard you say was..." or "Let me just try to repeat that back to you." I've found that this can help identify gaps in understanding not just for work topics but also for any situation where someone is trying to share their views with you.

 

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