In December 2014, Jesse Jackson and his Rainbow PUSH Coalition put together a summit to raise awareness of the lack of diversity in tech companies. With many tech giants such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube employing a workforce made up of less than 35% women and less than 5% black or Latino employees, the media picked up the story.
Unfortunately, most companies took a similar approach when faced with a reputation crisis–they collaborated with and donated to nonprofits with the most visibility.
Every year, companies with more than 100 employees must file an Employer Information Report, or an EEO-1 survey with the federal government. While companies are allowed to release it to the public, the top tech companies rarely do. They claim the need for secrecy to preserve a competitive advantage, but from where I stand, it seems more likely that tech companies are trying to pull an Apple with flashy donations that do little to solve the underlying problem.
A 2009 report found that only 6.8% of tech employees are minorities–despite minorities representing 27% of the U.S. population.
Little has changed since then. Women make up more than half of the U.S. population, yet few major tech companies come close to meeting that proportion. If more companies understood that diversity goes far beyond solving an image problem, then they might take the necessary steps to get to the root of the issue.
Your PR teammates aren’t the only people who should care about workplace diversity. Studies show multicultural teams are more innovative than their uniform counterparts. A 2006 study found that decision-making groups with racial diversity outperformed more homogenous groups by a significant margin. When your team is filled with similar people, it leads group members to think they have the same information and the same perspective. But this mindset squelches innovation and creativity.
Beyond idea generation, teams with multiple ethnicities tend to be more successful. Another study found that companies with at least three inherent and acquired diversity traits–such as ethnicity, sexual orientation, and experience working in another country–were 45% more likely to report an increase in market share, while 70% were more likely to capture a new market.
Growing a culture of diversity in your workplace also positions your business as a community leader. You’ll earn respect from cultural communities and minority groups. Working with organizations such as the National Urban League and the National Council of La Raza can offer you a rich employee pool. You’ll have greater employee retention and societal alignment while improving your bottom line.
The traditional social responsibility approach of giving money to high-profile organizations isn’t cutting it anymore. To enjoy these benefits, you have to employ a combination of ground-up efforts, sustainable partnerships, and workplace development.
Here are four ways to increase your team’s diversity:
When you expose K-12 students to an education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, you do more than enhance academic growth and critical-thinking skills: You increase their later interest in STEM careers. Because there’s unequal access to STEM opportunities within minority and underserved communities, start by promoting tech careers to your future workforce.
Imagine that instead of collaborating with big-name nonprofit organizations committed to creating job opportunities for minorities, Apple had teamed up with an Internet service provider to get technology and education into underserved schools. It would’ve gained a leadership position on the issue and attacked the core of the problem. The initiative also would’ve fought the current misguided thinking that engineering is only for men, and that the market is flooded.
Partnerships with highly visible organizations provide good PR, but they won’t help you develop a sustainable solution. Once you’ve given the money away, it’s nearly impossible to ensure it contributes to the solution.
Instead, you should develop true corporate social responsibility efforts that will raise further awareness of the issue. Forge partnerships that will target the problem at its source, and keep the focus within avenues where you can follow up.
Some of the best examples of diversity in the workplace come from long-standing companies. Comcast actively supports the Hispanic and LGBT communities, and Western Union’s program supports domestic partner benefits coverage globally. Companies such as Google run workshops to combat potential employee biases. Fostering internal workplace education and acceptance will help you build strong workplace relationships across cultures.
My company’s collective work calls for reaching consumers of multiple ethnicities, which is impossible to do without a deep understanding of a wide range of cultures. Our team consists of more than 40 people who collectively speak 20 different languages. This allows us to reach the ever-growing group of global consumers and grow as a company. Tap into the diversity of your workplace to gain a deep understanding of your workforce and your potential customer base.
Remember that diversity isn’t just about hitting the high points. Within groups of African Americans, Hispanics, and women, note the subsegments that deserve attention. You also have Eastern European and Arabic communities. Silicon Valley has one of the highest populations of Iranians and Afghans in the U.S., as both cultures are driven by engineering and technology.
When Mohammad Qayoumi, PhD, accepted a position as president of California State University, East Bay in 2006, he became the first Afghan to head a major U.S. university. This engineer and businessman likely won’t be the last.
The media coverage of 2014’s tech summit was a step in the right direction, but you need new solutions to fix old problems. Don’t try to solve the issue of diversity using the typical corporate social-responsibility approach. Start by educating the next generation of underserved children, and continue by developing sustainable relationships with the right organizations. Fight the stereotypes and the status quo to make your obligation to corporate social responsibility benefit your bottom line.