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Why It Matters For Tech Companies To Release Diversity Data On Time

Failure and transparency are calls to action in the tech industry. So why are they holding back with diversity?

Why It Matters For Tech Companies To Release Diversity Data On Time
[Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images]

“As you know, Mrs. Bellis,” my second-grade teacher definitely did not tell my mother, “your son has been struggling in school this marking period, so we’ve decided we aren’t going to share his report card. We’ll wait until he’s managed to bring his grades up before telling you what they are.”

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That’s pretty much the logic Twitter and Pinterest are sharing with the public this week. According to a Wall Street Journal report, both companies are “delaying” the release of their latest diversity data until later this month–16 months after their last updates came out.

And while we won’t know how much progress they’ve made until then, there’s ample reason to suspect it’ll be disappointing. Both companies’ next reports are expected to shift toward laying out new hiring objectives rather than (just) sharing demographic figures on race and gender.

That change comes in an industry where progress on improving the representation of women and people of color has all but stalled. 2014 saw a big push to expand transparency around diversity data in the tech sector, with Tracy Chou, formerly a Pinterest engineer and currently of the advocacy group Project Include, helping to lead that charge. As she tells the Journal‘s Georgia Wells today, though, “There’s starting to be a shift in the conversation: We can’t just put the diversity data out there.” Instead, she says the question is becoming, “What can we do to move the data in the right direction?”

Those two things aren’t mutually exclusive. The whole point of releasing diversity data–regularly–is to keep that conversation going in the first place. When an ambitious plan to improve its internal diversity largely face-planted by last year, Pinterest was forced to rethink its efforts, hiring a new diversity chief to lead them.

So was Intel, whose $300-million diversity initiative in 2015 has led to only incremental change in the company’s workforce in the 18 months since it launched. Facebook and Google’s parent company Alphabet haven’t made significant improvements either, the Journal notes. That’s despite initiatives that include hiring underrepresented minorities as interns and appointing executives to lead further inclusion efforts.

But isn’t failure (and transparency around it) a rallying cry in Silicon Valley–a call to action, not a reason to add more time to the clock? The way to sustain the energy, urgency, and seriousness around the toughest challenges isn’t to let well over a year go by before sharing more information on them. Nor is it by moving the goal posts when that information isn’t positive. A shift in hiring and recruiting strategy may be called for, as Chou suggests. And it’s true, as Pinterest’s diversity chief, Candice Morgan, points out in the Journal story: The most effective game-plan may take (much) longer than 12 months to show results of any kind–good or bad, mixed or middling.

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Tech insiders should be more comfortable than most with making long-term investments, confident that today’s tepid update obscures tomorrow’s monster ROI. There’s not a VC out there who’d tell a startup that they’d just dumped a bunch of money into: “Take your time and hit me up whenever you’re finally cash-positive, no need to keep me posted in the meantime!” Transparency is both a means for accomplishing a goal and an end in itself.

Especially now. There’s a lot we don’t know, for instance, about how President-elect Donald Trump will lead over the next four years, because there’s a lot we don’t know about his taxes and his plans for managing his businesses, among other things.

One thing we do know is the makeup of Trump’s economic team–which is all men, most of them white and many of them billionaires. Multiple studies have already shown that you can’t properly critique what you don’t know, and you can’t make it better, either. At least not before it’s done some damage.

Related Video: One CEO Shares How He’s Creating Diversity In Silicon Valley

About the author

Rich Bellis is Associate Editor of Fast Company's Leadership section.

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