This Is Embarrassing for Silicon Valley

Did you know you could now rent a minority for every occasion? Someone get The Academy, Silicon Valley, even Trump on the phone! Some smart person has finally figured out a quick fix to this institutional inequality we’ve been droning on and on about… (insert eye roll)

This means that efforts of lessening the burdens of white, sexist, heteronormative, and gender/body conforming consciousness don’t need to resort to ignorance, mansplaining, tokenization, Twitter campaigns; on the other hand, we also wouldn’t need satire like rent-a-minority to drive home a critical point. 

In all seriousness, whether or not you’re tired of hearing/reading/talking about it, diversity, or lack thereof, is a real problem. Before delving in deeper, let’s clear up some things:

  1. Diversity ≠ Women
  2. Diversity ≠ Black people
  3. Diversity ≠ Scorecard/Stats
  4. Diversity is a goal unto itself
  5. Understanding (and discussing) diversity problems and figuring out solutions can’t be surface level, isolated, and/or about quick fixes

For this piece, I’m focusing on the talent/recruiting angle as it pertains to building a diverse team and company. Having partnered with a variety of tech startups over the past 3+ years as a talent consultant, I feel fortunate for the insight and lessons learned. I’m still learning, however, and thus welcome any connections, best practices, tips, etc. to further my knowledge. In the same spirit, this is my contribution to the on-going conversation.  Feel free to share your thoughts and learnings in the comments section.

 

The Need for Diversity in Business/Tech

Should I? I mean, do we still need to make the business case for inclusion? The data speaks for itself: The “collective buying power of colored and gay Americans in the U.S. grew from a base of nearly $600 billion in 1990 to approximately $1.4 trillion in 2004 -- a trend we have seen only spike up since then. People with disabilities, the largest of US-based minority groups and which crosses gender/age/culture/sexuality borders, maintains an “aggregate income that exceeds $1 trillion and boasts $220 billion in discretionary spending power.” 

A business needs to transform with evolving demographics and markets, and, hence, an inclusive and diverse workforce is not only reflective of such changing dynamics but also critical to any business’ success. Winning the talent war, alignment with customers, employee satisfaction, engagement and retention, decision making, and company brand...all are closely intertwined with diversity and impact your business’ performance.

 

#TeamDiversity

You want a diverse team? Good; it’s the smart choice. After all, a 2006 study showed that “decision-making groups with racial diversity outperform more homogenous groups by a significant margin.” Beyond ideation, teams with multiple ethnicities tend to be more successful—45% more likely to report an increase in market share and 70% were more likely to capture a new market. Moreover, as FastCompany accurately explicates, growing a culture of diversity in your workplace positions your business as a community leader.

So, yes, great choice indeed. However, don’t try to shortcut your way to diversity -- Rent-A-Minority is not an actual thing and people can easily detect your inauthenticity a mile away. Therefore, before you (or your recruiters) scour LinkedIn for every ‘visibly’ female and black engineer out there (btw, how are you doing with identifying LGBTQ, vets, engineers with disabilities from LI profiles?), stop and do some soul-searching, as a human being, professional, leader.

Lack of diversity in tech, as in any other domain, is a multi-faceted issue. If you’re serious about building a diverse team, here are some things you need to understand:

  • It starts early: Don’t solely focus on/blame the recruitment pipeline. Minority students are underrepresented in CS and engineering programs: According to American Community Survey data, “among young computer science and engineering graduates with bachelor’s or advanced degrees, 57% are white, 26% are Asian, 8% are Hispanic, and 6% are black.” This goes back to early access to education--quality education--that provides fair opportunities to all. Starting from as early as middle school, more strategic and targeted work needs to be done to bridge the gap and ensure minorities have access and support to pursue STEM careers. This includes changing socializations and messaging; providing opportunities, mentorships, and long-term support; recognizing and resolving unconscious/implicit biases; etc. Also, meritocracy is utter BS: It’s a broken and problematic principle: “governance and holding of power by those with skills and ability” doesn’t look at who exactly in the system is afforded the opportunity to obtain these ‘skills’ and ‘abilities,’ So, let’s not use it as a qualifying metric, shall we?
  • As a talent hacker/employer: After your soul-searching, educate yourself. Genuinely ask questions, broaden your network and connect with people of diverse backgrounds, and LISTEN. Hiring a ‘Director of Diversity’/’Social Impact Chair’ won’t help you fix it: Understand the problem in the context of the bigger picture but also as it relates to your own ecosystem. If you’re part of Silicon Valley, familiarize yourself with the landscape: The numbersThe ReportsThe Unconscious BiasFighting this biasBros funding BrosThe Fight. Like I said, it’s multi-faceted. 
  • What comes next:
    • Build/change your company culture to be inclusive and aware.
    • Move beyond lip service and PR stunts; involve top leadership for support and accountability; partner with and learn from minority-focused organizations doing the groundwork; move away from the model of assigning the token minority to handle diversity issues--everyone needs to participate.
    • Analyze and modify as necessary--company values, messaging, job descriptions, recruitment strategies (pitches, interview practices, focus areas), decision-making processes, unconscious biases, work policies, team communications, bonding events, etc.
    • Commit to ongoing training, development, tracking and reporting, support (mentorship, sponsorship), partnership, etc.

Remember: Diversity ≠ Scorecard/Stats.

Your objective behind wanting to build an inclusive team shouldn’t be to escape articles and barrage of tweets bemoaning your company’s lack of diversity, to release reports and toot your own horn for having ‘X%’ more diverse employee base than others, to save your brand, etc. If that’s the case, you’re doing it wrong. And you’re definitely not winning a Diversity Crunchie Award anytime soon :P

Let’s be real: Diversity, as an issue, is particularly embarrassing for the status-quo disrupting and innovative Silicon Valley. Becoming more aware and honest about the problem, rather than paying it lip-service, is the first and best step in the right direction.