The tech community has a well-documented diversity problem, and the sense within Silicon Valley that something needs to be done about it is getting more acute.
But if you look at any of the diversity reports coming out of Google, Facebook, Yahoo, and other major tech companies, it’s clear there’s a long way to go. Company demographics have changed little over the past year, and I’m frankly not surprised.
As is true of any goal, you need to define the “why” before setting out to achieve it. And so far, the tech industry has failed to do that when it comes to diversity. But the truth is that more diverse technology companies make for better businesses.
For starters, diversity isn’t just about ethnicity and gender. That’s not to say that bringing more ethnic minorities and women into tech fields isn’t vital—it is. But hiring on that basis won’t accomplish anything of real or lasting significance. You can have a company that’s 50% women and 50% men but still isn’t meaningfully diverse.
Real diversity in any organization is more deeply rooted and nuanced than any quota-keeping can produced, and it always has significant payoffs. Here’s a look at four of them, followed by five ways to tackle diversity the right way.
A recent Harvard Business Review study, found that companies that were strong on both “inherent” (traits you’re born with) and “acquired” (traits born of experience) diversity out-innovated and out-performed others. Researchers also discovered that employees at companies that prized both these forms of diversity were 45% more likely to report a growth in market share over the previous year and were 70% more likely to report capturing a new market.
A diverse group of problem-solvers usually has a better chance of outperforming a less diverse team, thanks to the broader range of experiences each member brings to the table. In other words, it has less to do with what we look like on the outside than with the ways we see the world and interpret experiences.
By hiring candidates with a broad range of backgrounds, you can encourage different ways of thinking for tackling pressing problems—a persistent need at the heart of the tech sector.
Employees are likelier to leave a job where they don’t feel valued or foresee opportunities for advancement. Many tech companies still lack significant female leadership, which could be discouraging high-potential women from staying put at companies long enough to reach senior management positions—even before factoring in any of the other obstacles they may need to surmount on the way up.
It’s also no secret that Silicon Valley has an age bias and generally favors younger talent. I once heard a reporter say that if someone is old enough to have a beer then he or she is “too old” to be labeled a young CEO, which many tech companies believe makes them look fresh and dynamic. Working against that bias isn’t just about getting past dubious PR optics—it’s also the most obvious way to retain top-notch talent and experience.
The world’s leading tech hubs have reached a socioeconomic tipping point. San Francisco, the heart of the tech industry in the U.S., now has the fastest-growing income inequality in the country—a gap on par with Rwanda’s.
That’s an enormous moral problem as well as a serious liability for the tech sector’s future. By opening up more opportunities for talented people from minority and lower-income backgrounds, we can help confront issues that reach both within and beyond company walls.
Any tech company that’s serious about meaningful diversity needs a management strategy that puts the issue front-and-center and expands the talent pipeline. Here are a five ways to do just that:
1. Avoid merely cosmetic diversity. Decide on the types of diversity and skill sets you need to move your business forward. This means not just filling quotas but in pursuing unconventional candidates—those who bring a diverse range of backgrounds, experiences, and viewpoints to your team.
2. Uncover hidden biases. Unwittingly or otherwise, most people tend to be attracted to people they believe to be similar to themselves. Hiring teams and managers should be trained to recognize personal biases and embrace candidates who may have different perspectives in addition to “inherent” diversity traits. Deloitte has even outlined a few ways job descriptions and interview process can be written to include competencies and questions that lead to a more cognitively diverse organization.
3. Don’t stop diversity at recruitment. Retaining diverse talent can be more difficult than recruiting it. Set up a mentor program to introduce new hires into the workplace and to highlight opportunities for advancement. Make sure your human resources approach accommodates cultural and religious needs. Bulk up on benefits for parents like on-site daycare and flexible schedules.
4. Expand the talent pipeline. In addition to recruiting computer science grads, look into partnering with coding schools and other alternative programs to increase the diversity of your talent pipeline. Coding accelerators like ours, Coding Dojo, are actively creating their own sets of initiatives to bring a more diverse set of individuals into tech—including those that don’t graduate from Ivies. We’ve trained a wide range of talented students who find their way into tech from the arts and other fields tech companies don’t typically consider—and often those people overcame major life hurdles along the way.
5. Put goals in writing. Understand and discuss why diversity matters in your organization. Then commit to putting together an actionable plan with specific goals, and follow through with your commitment.
Meaningfully improving diversity in the tech industry is within reach. The first step—recognizing the need—has already been taken. Now the real challenge begins—getting it done.
Richard Wang is the CEO of Coding Dojo, a 14-week coding bootcamp in San Jose, Seattle, and L.A. Richard is also managing partner at Village88 Innovation Studio, a tech incubator and consulting firm in Seattle.