Diversity in the tech community is a hot topic these days as several industry giants like Facebook, Twitter, and Google try to shed the unfavorable public perception of being a boys club. It’s no secret that Silicon Valley is made up predominately of straight, white, men. However, there are several tech companies who are aware of the lack of diversity and have made a commitment to undergo significant changes.
“We have a goal to reach every person on the planet.” Twitter stated in an article published on their blog last year. “We believe that goal is more attainable with a team that understands and represents different cultures and backgrounds.”
Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple Inc. echoed this sentiment stating, “Diversity is critical to innovation and it is essential to Apple’s future. We aspire to do more than just make our company as diverse as the talent available to hire. We must address the broad underlying challenges, offer new opportunities, and create a future generation of employees as diverse as the world around us.”
In an effort to fuel this movement towards a more diverse tech industry, one startup is partnering with innovative companies like Pinterest and Airbnb to help build a stronger, more diverse organizations. Paradigm works with companies to cultivate and leverage the power of diversity by using an innovative, iterative, and metrics-driven approach. The company, spearheaded by CEO Joelle Emerson, uses both quantitative and qualitative analysis to identify potential patterns of biases and disparities.
Emerson has identified five strategies that she believes tech companies should engage in to build more diverse and inclusive organizations.
For example, when Etsy decided to boost its gender diversity, former CTO Kellan Ellitot-McCrea was involved in restructuring the company’s recruiting and hiring approach. After a year, Etsy had grown the number of female engineers by almost 500 percent.
Emerson recommends that at least one C-suite level executive, and preferably a founder in new companies, should be directly involved in these efforts, developing company goals around diversity, supporting and rewarding employees who dedicate their time to building a diverse organization and ensuring accountability.
In general companies should be looking at the following areas: how candidates are attracted and recruited; how work is assigned; how performance is evaluated; how much employees are paid; how employees advance in the company and when they leave; and how happy employees are. Embedding these data-collection measures early will make it far easier for companies to identify and address barriers to building a diverse organization.
Until the pipeline is more diverse, tech companies should prioritize finding and hiring diverse employees from sources outside their traditional networks. The process most companies use to find candidates — relying on informal social networks and referrals from current employees — is a great approach for finding more employees like the ones you already have. For a company that’s not yet diverse, this can perpetuate the problem. Companies committed to diversity need to make a conscious effort to build more diverse networks and find these candidates.
Social and psychological factors like unconscious bias and stereotypes can hinder success in the recruiting process for diverse candidates who apply. Unconscious bias can lead interviewers to unintentionally apply different standards to diverse and non-diverse candidates. Awareness of these issues, and a focus on strategies that minimize their impact, will lead to more effective recruiting of diverse candidates and better hiring decisions overall.
Creating such a culture should include establishing explicit structures that support diverse employees, like better paid leave for new parents — a benefit that significantly reduced women’s attrition at Google. Instead of waiting to be in the position that larger tech companies are in now — investing heavily in diversity to achieve only incremental change — startups should begin focusing on diversity today.
Image Credit: Flickr/Oregon Department of Transportation
Joi M. Sears is the Founder and Creative Director of Free People International, a social enterprise which specializes in offering creative solutions to the world's biggest social, environmental and economic challenges through the arts, design thinking and social innovation.