During the July 15th Townhall Meeting, Binc discussed a variety of topics surrounding the future of Binc, with Diversity & Inclusion being a major focal point. We have had conversations about becoming a recruiting firm that along with hiring top engineering talent in the Bay Area, offers analysis and solutions for D&I as well. This doesn’t mean we help our clients meet a ‘diversity quota’, but rather it means educating our clients to foster a more diverse work environment. However, in order to become experts, we must also be aware of our own culture and address the topic of D&I amongst ourselves first.
A number of Bincers have already begun tackling D&I within Binc, so I decided to join in on the conversation. Recently, I attended the Code 2040 Summit 2016. For those of you who haven’t heard of Code2040, it is a nonprofit organization that “creates pathways to educational, professional and entrepreneurial success in technology for underrepresented groups with a specific focus on Blacks and Latinos/as.” They have partnered with companies such as Slack, Medium, Google, Twitter, Github, Pandora, and Airbnb to assist with raising diversity in Silicon Valley.
I attended the Summit with the simple goal of learning more about diversity in the workplace and to hear perspectives from others because I, albeit a Black male in Silicon Valley, haven’t actually thought too deeply about this topic. So, in this article, I’ve shared three takeaways that resonated with me: 1) leaders need to be involved; 2) there is bias embedded in the code; and 3) diversity needs to be on the front lines of communication. If we truly want to embrace diversity and inclusion, it needs to be a wholehearted, comprehensive effort.
Leaders of an organization lead by example. They set the tone, pace, and culture of a company. It should come as no surprise then, that the same principle should be applied to diversity and inclusion. When a leader announces a change in a company, whether that be cultural, economic, or operational, they explain their reasoning for such change and why they deem it important. This declaration of importance comes from a place of believing it is the right thing to do for the company, and to have your employees buy into the change. When your people buy into your vision, they will embody that change and act upon it wholeheartedly.
We see a perfect example of this with Binc Flex, Binc’s newest business offering. This was a major shift for our business, and something that our leaders thought was the right thing to do for our company given the current market in Silicon Valley. With an awesome mid-year meeting and a number of group sessions, we were able to share feedback and have a collective consensus agree to the change. Without our leaders taking point on this initiative, it’s hard to believe that Binc Flex would ever have gotten off the ground. Therefore, this same leadership can be applied in order to successfully implement diversity and inclusion into your organization. It is paramount that the leaders set the tone because if they’re bought into the vision, their people will follow suit.
The second main takeaway is that there is bias embedded in the code. Nicole Sanchez, VP of Social Impact at Github, shared an eye-opening discovery: the first published article including the word diversity in tech didn’t appear until 2011. Given this revelation, one could posit that diversity was never a serious priority in tech. Bearing this in mind, this embedded bias creeps in from two points: 1) a lack of knowledge of the existing talent pool, and 2) a lack of interview process that allows for pattern bias to occur. For decades, the tech workforce has been comprised mainly of a specific group of people: white mid-to-upper class white males. Bearing this in mind, tech companies on the search for top engineering talent tend to gravitate towards a narrow definition of the term: a candidate from a small group of distinguished institutions (Stanford, Berkeley, CMU) who has worked at a small group of tech giants (Facebook, Google, Twitter, etc.). For years, this has been seen as the ‘best’ pool of talent in Silicon Valley. But why? How is it that Danilo Campos, the now Technical Director of Social Impact at Github, was able to land an engineering gig at Hipmunk without a CS degree from Stanford or Berkeley? Was it sheer luck that Hipmunk employees discovered the iPhone app that he had created by teaching himself how to program? One could argue yes, but one can also chalk it up to the possibility of there being other talent avenues in the country outside of Silicon Valley. Despite companies declaring that the reason for extremely low levels of diversity is due to the ‘pipeline problem,’ and despite the fact that there are twice as many Black and Latino CS graduates that are being hired, there is talent out there. You just have to reach a little further to find it.
A poor interview process, or a lack thereof, also allows for bias to occur in hiring. Why? An interviewer that goes to evaluate a candidate without a concrete process, will tend to default to using what and who they know as a basis for evaluation. In this case, if an overwhelming majority of the tech workforce hails from the cookie-cutter Silicon Valley mold, what do you think they’re going to use as a reference for top talent? In many cases, minorities miss out on these opportunities because they do not fit that mold, where there they very well may have had the correct qualifications for the job.
Why is this an issue for tech companies? Well, first and foremost, trying to eradicate bias throughout the selection process should be a goal in an of itself; but from a business standpoint, passing up on this diverse pool of talent puts companies at a disadvantage because they, in turn, are missing out on a market share that is waiting to be tapped. The members of your team determine what type of product you make, and if your team is not diverse, your product will not be either. Ultimately, your product will end up catering towards a specific demographic, while neglecting a market that otherwise would have been addressed if your team had been more diverse. Ipsita Agarwal touches on this in her post “Why Diverse Teams Make Better Products,” pointing to Facebook’s Free Basics Program, an initiative to give internet access to people in India who couldn’t afford it, under the one condition that Facebook would get to choose which sites to allow access to. What resulted was an ugly debate dividing public opinion in two with activists against censorship on one side, and supporters (not in India), who asked “free internet is better than no internet, right?” Agarwal poses the questions, “What would Free Basics look like if it was built on an understanding of its customers? What would the product team behind it look like?” Thus, one can see how not having a diverse team can negatively affect a company’s abilities to enter a market that is more diverse than its team.
For more inclusion and diversity to flourish in the tech sector, leaders need to be deeply involved in the conversation, for without their participation, the importance of this critical subject can be undermined. Secondly, people should realize that there is bias in the hiring of minority in groups due to a lack of proper interview processes and a dearth of knowledge about where to find engineering talent. Lastly, diversity and inclusion is a topic that should be taken seriously and not as an afterthought. Although research has shown that more diverse teams generally prove to be more productive and often increase the bottom line for companies (making D&I a no-brainer business wise), focusing on equality should be an ethical decision. It’s just the right thing to do.