Turbulence in technology this year, coupled with the increased focus on the #MeToo movement, has drawn new attention to the efforts high tech has made toward building inclusive work environments. On the other hand, many observers have shed light on inherent biases, assumptions and barriers that stubbornly remain.
It’s no secret that technology has long lacked diversity. White people comprise 83% of tech-sector executive roles — more than Asian Americans (10.6% to 19.5%), Hispanics (3.1% to 5.3%), African Americans (2% to 5.3%) and other minority groups, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Tech business leaders have a great opportunity to recognize the value of inclusion and prioritize efforts for greater diversity.
In order to build the best technology solutions, businesses need to attract the best people in their field. In an ultra-competitive marketplace for artificial intelligence (AI), computer science and programming talent, inclusive recruiting practices that emphasize diversity add valuable appeal for prospective candidates. Diverse teams can help companies create technology solutions that are better equipped to answer diverse customer needs.
Increasing Value Through Diversity And Inclusion
Companies that embrace diversity in terms of gender, ethnicity and race are often more creative, innovative and profitable. McKinsey & Company recently examined more than 1,000 companies across 12 countries and found that firms in the top quartile for gender diversity are 21% more likely to experience above-average profitability than those in the bottom quartile. Additionally, companies in the top quartile for ethnic diversity are 33% more likely to score more profits than those in the lowest quartile.
As machine learning continues to grow in popularity and influence people, industry professionals and business leaders must be mindful about the role a diverse workforce plays in defining our perspectives, programming and products. Biases built into products can erode consumer confidence and confirm their fears about advanced technology. With AI, an enormous amount of pressure is placed on researchers and engineers to produce intelligent systems. Apple learned this the hard way when its facial recognition feature failed to distinguish black and Asian faces, sparking charges of racism.
Diverse human engineering teams instinctively analyze problems from different perspectives, which can result in unexpected solutions. At a time when biases in some AI systems are being detected, diverse thinking can lead to more accurate algorithms that produce more effective AI systems that are reflective of the human experience. Concrete commitment to an inclusive workforce sets the tone in the company culture and breaks down the barriers of “just like me” thinking.
Tactics For Fostering Diversity And Inclusion
The following are tactics and strategies that CEOs, executives, recruiters, and human resources managers can adopt to build a more diverse and inclusive work environment.
1. Start with the CEO. The CEO needs to make diversity and inclusion a company priority. It’s the CEO’s job to continuously communicate company goals and values, and diversity is no different. So, the CEO needs to take the lead in promoting why diversity is important to the entire workforce, emphasizing its value to the company. When your employees see you walking the walk, they’ll fall into step.
2. Communicate the parallels between diversity, customer needs and company performance. When tech companies focus on having open minds, they are better positioned to explore new and improved applications of technology. A diverse set of perspectives can yield technology with better usability or decision-making capabilities for a strategic advantage. Inclusion can also protect brands by mitigating the risk of bias accusations by ensuring multiple audiences are considered.
3. Recruit with the intent of building an inclusive workforce. A CEO can hire and inspire a recruiting team that embraces diversity. Charge that team with the mission of finding and building an inclusive team — make it one of their key performance indicators (KPIs). Suggest that they recruit at places likely to have diverse talent pools. Task this team with teaching hiring managers that looking for people “just like them” goes against the overall goal of building an inclusive workforce.
4. Educate and create awareness all year long. Once you understand the value of inclusion, diversity will naturally follow. Give your human resources department the job of developing an ongoing education and awareness program that informs people about conscious biases present throughout the workplace and society. Get employees involved in hands-on training and workshops to help identify and tear down barriers. Follow up every talk, training and hiring of a new employee with a debrief and review of how diversity and inclusion align with company goals.
5. Build cross-functional teams. Encourage cross-functional teams to collaborate on projects, actively soliciting ideas and opinions from every corner of the room. This will help transform the organization’s “just like me” mentality into one that embraces the new and unexpected.
6. Promote people of diverse backgrounds. Promoting people of diverse backgrounds to positions of influence is just as important as hiring them. Not only will this give employees an example of a viable path to strive for, but it will also ensure that different perspectives infiltrate upper management, the company’s overall approach to problem-solving and product development.
7. Celebrate diversity and inclusion. Create a space for employees to celebrate different perspectives. If members of your team want to celebrate their heritage and background, give them the platform to do so, and make it a priority for management to show up. This reinforces your company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.
The high-tech industry is moving in the right direction. We are seeing market leaders like Google and Facebook take on big initiatives to promote diversity internally at all levels. A mind shift is starting to happen in the C-suite. Business leaders are beginning to understand that encouraging an inclusive workforce and creating a culture of diversity gives their company greater access to scarce talent — a competitive advantage with positive impacts to the bottom line. It empowers us to build solutions that might help solve current and future societal problems. Focusing on diversity and inclusion makes us stronger as leaders, and it makes the fabric of our companies stronger, too.