In high tech, workplace diversity is a blatant and pervasive issue. Despite the fact that diversity is at the core of company values for several tech titans, and that organizations make better business decisions through diversity, the demographic makeup of these entities is evolving at a sluggish rate.
Recently Apple, Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, Yahoo, Twitter and others released their employee diversity data. Here is the ethnicity and gender data from the above sources:
The story was the same across the board: Majority men, white and asian.
First, I commend any company that is willing to come forward and publicly recognize the need to work on a core operating principle. That takes guts and invites harsh criticism. While I applaud these companies (two of which I’ve worked at), I still believe that the underrepresentation of other minority groups is alarming.
An obvious question emerges: How do we change the diversity landscape of tech?
Before we get to the how, let’s focus on the why. Why is this there such a lack of diversity in tech? One reason is that companies recruit from homogeneous environments. When a recruiter is told to only focus on Harvard grads and ex-McKinsey consultants, guess what: these environments already lack in diversity. The opportunity gap wasn’t invented by the tech industry. It heavily stems from educational institutions and income and wealth inequality.
While the opportunity gap is a huge factor, we can’t accept it as the only one. There are still plenty of things to be done by tech leaders. I believe it is the tech industry’s responsibility to create their own strategies for putting diversity at the forefront of their company vision, culture and values. Not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it is ultimately diverse perspectives that drive innovation.
So what can we do? While the answer is complex, here are some of the solutions I’ve discussed with industry peers that I think will move the needle:
Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are one of the best ways to mobilize employees around a common goal. In this case (as with most ERGs), companies create ERGs to provide resources to employees from minority groups, build awareness for that group, and create an environment that is attractive to current and future employees.
At Twitter, we have created WomEng (women in engineering), SWAT (super women at Twitter), TwUX (Twitter women in design), Blackbird (employees of African descent), TwitterOpen (LGBTQ employees) and Alas (Latino and Latina employees). I think ERGs must collaborate with executive leadership and each other to guide the strategy behind getting diversity right.
Make Diversity A Company-Wide Issue
We’ve all heard a variation of this, but it’s true: diversity isn’t just up to recruiters to fix. Take referrals for instance. Referrals often make up a large percentage of who gets hired in tech. This means that every employee that refers can change the diversity landscape. My ask of everyone would be to seek diversity within your network. Don’t just hire people like you. Seek out different perspectives than your own and don’t depend on ERGs to do the legwork. If diversity becomes a collective effort, we can move mountains.
Form Alliances With Career Development Organizations for Minorities
Girls Who Code, Black Girls Code, MLT, HRC, NCWIT, YearUp and many other organizations are working to provide opportunities for minorities in STEM education and high tech careers. Most of the tech companies I mentioned are already partnering with these organizations to create an immediate talent pipeline, provide financial support and publicity for the orgs, and learn how to best support their own employees.
Make Your Company The Best Place To Work for Minorities
This point is difficult for me because it is very subjective. For some employees, this means not looking around your office and being the only person of color. For others, it means being treated equally and fairly without the need to discuss diversity. For prospective LGBT employees, it could mean ranking highly in HRC’s Corporate Equality Index. I think all of these POVs are valid, and it’s up to ERGs to help define what it means to be “The Best Place To Work for Minorities” for current and prospective employees.
Ultimately, we have to be the change. We can and should work to close the opportunity gap (which several companies are doing), but the truth is that we build the companies from the people up. We need to hack recruiting, break it down and rebuild it to source qualified, diverse candidates for each role. We need to act collectively, seeking diversity out through all of our networks. Most importantly, we must build companies where employees from every background feel celebrated and inspired to come to work.
The last question I’ll leave you with is this:
If the most innovative companies in the world can’t get diversity right, the creators of the greatest social, search, and computing platforms in existence, then who can?