Tech inclusion is at the forefront of forward-thinking companies’ strategic priorities—and the reasons why, according to leading analysts, are self-explanatory. Studies have shown that diversity and inclusion programs help companies perform better, including:
A Hays Asia Diversity & Inclusion Report (download required) says that improved company culture, innovation, and retention of talent were the top 3 benefits of diversity identified by respondents.
A Boston Consulting Group study found that companies with more diverse management teams have 19% higher revenues due to innovation.
- McKinsey’s 2018 Delivering Through Diversity report found that corporations that embrace gender diversity on their executive teams were 21% more likely to experience above-average profitability. They also had a 27% likelihood of “superior value creation”.
So why is it, in the year 2019—when it’s possible to build autonomous dog robots—do companies around the world struggle to build teams that balance race, gender, ethnicity, educational attainment, physical ability, and other indicators that bring new perspectives to the table? Building an environment of diversity and inclusion means first understanding common pitfalls.
Pitfall #1: Struggling to create safeguards for “difference”
Diversity enables companies and teams to outsmart the logical fallacy of groupthink, which Psychology Today describes as the tendency of “well-intentioned people to make irrational or non-optimal decisions that are spurred by the urge to conform or the discouragement of dissent.”
Disagreement, while healthy in organizational settings, has the potential to create conflict. This same conflict has the potential to fuel anger and unnecessary office politics. With people depending on their jobs for survival—for incomes, health insurance, social interactions, and meaningful careers—it can be tough to be the person in the room with a “different” perspective.
These interpersonal dynamics arise from one of the most timeless aspects of human nature—in-group and out-group psychology of crowds.
“In our desire to feel safe, we bond together with those whom we see as most like us so that we can protect ourselves from those who might do us harm,” writes Susan Kraus Whitbourne, Ph.D. for Psychology Today. “The virtual fences we build keep the outsiders away and allow us to go on with our daily lives feeling protected and secure.”
A solution? Create forums for employees to express ideas freely and fully—take careful measures to prevent retaliation. Actively remind team members about the importance of tech inclusion and the need to agree to disagree—while protecting their jobs.
Most importantly, walk your talk in remembering that everyone is part of the same team.
Pitfall #2: Focusing on superficial metrics for the purposes of “looking good”
Aubrey Blanche, head of diversity and belonging at global software company Atlassian, has been one of the most vocal people rejecting groupthink in the tech sector. With her often contrarian perspectives, she takes a data-driven approach to sharing metrics that represent a true and accurate picture—even if that means not having the “perfect” numbers. She writes for WIRED:
“The status quo involves measuring diversity company-wide (e.g., reporting that 2 percent of all employees are women of color), which is simply the wrong unit of analysis. That’s because company-level measurement doesn’t actually measure diversity—it measures representation. An increase in representation isn’t the same as an increase in diversity.”
Her recommendation is to create more granular reporting mechanisms—and to publicize them as she has led her employer to do in Atlassian’s annual Balance and Belonging report.
As tempting as it might be to aggregate units analysis—for instance, measuring diversity based on gender alone—it’s even more important to confront, head on, where diversity efforts are falling short. Then, leadership and management teams can ask questions that open doors for a resolution.
Begin with the question of why women of color represent single-digit proportions of overall tech workers?
One solution: build recruiting pathways into historically black universities.
Pitfall #3: Diversity and inclusion as a separate business function
In an ideal world, every team leader would wear a dual hat of a diversity and inclusion leader. But smart technologists are well-aware that organizational silos don’t work.
Let’s say you want to work in diversity and inclusion. Blanche’s advice? Don’t do it.
“The advice I have for people who want to work in D&I is not to do it,” she said in a live, online Ask Me Anything session with the Tech Ladies community.
Instead, focus on being a positive role model in building replicable systems for your team.
“D&I should become a way of doing business—not an initiative. Initiatives and programs tend to dissipate when the drivers of the programs go away. When D&I is built into the fabric, it informs how you staff, build teams, compensate, call on clients, develop customer solutions, and more,” says Steve Jarrett, Sr. Diversity and Inclusion Consultant, Oracle.