Diversity in Tech – Making the Future Today

This is an article I wrote for the January 2015 issue of Women Testers…you can read the entire magazine here…enjoy!

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” ― Eleanor Roosevelt

I am a product of my environment. I have benefited from a lifelong positive model for diversity starting with my mother, to my wife, multiple bosses, friends, to my industry colleagues. Strong, intelligent men and women who inspire and challenge me, and make me think differently about who I am and how I see the world have surrounded me for as long as I can remember. I am grateful for that experience, but I realize that not everyone has had the advantages that I have enjoyed. As well, part of the social contract, as Elizabeth Warren says is to “take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”

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Having spent twenty years in large, multi-national companies working on countless Human Resources exercises trying to work out why diversity is such a problem, I can tell you, Einstein’s view on “the same level of thinking” reins supreme. To crack a “problem” as large as the one that some of these organizations face, complete reinvention is required – something that most individuals, let alone 1000+ person workforces cannot easily accomplish.

Increasing diversity in technology has just about entered the phase of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) where everyone and their brother (pun intended) has started some initiative to increase their footprint with some underrepresented group. Looking to the future, this trend seems to be increasing with CSR commitments becoming the new standard to govern decisions from whom to do business to where we want to work.

Diversity versus inclusion…

In my experience, the trajectory for identifying, hiring, training, and developing people in large companies is so protracted; adding another source of candidate flow is nearly doomed from inception. Moving the needle on something so large and pervasive as the lack of diversity in technology requires a complete rethink of the issue at hand, and that means changing the game.

Unfortunately, the real problem with companies is not the lack of diversity but the lack of inclusion, regardless of what the workforce looks like. Inclusion according to the Harvard Business Review is how you “create an atmosphere in which all people feel valued and respected and have access to the same opportunities,” and inclusion is where the diversity rubber hits the road. I’ve sat on multiple senior executive boards discussing the progression towards our targets in a room comprised entirely of middle aged, white men. Worse than that, two and three layers deep into the org charts the demographics looked exactly the same – and no amount of target setting is going to change that fact.

So while setting targets to increase your diversity footprint may have some merit, in my opinion and experience, if that’s your approach – you’re doing it wrong.

You’re doing it wrong…

At the New York Tech Talent Summit last year, I was on a panel discussing workforce development and our work at Doran Jones with Per Scholas. During the Q&A I was asked what I thought could be done to increase the amount of women hired in technology. My answer: create new companies that make diversity an underpinning of their business model. There are clear benefits of a diverse workforce from marketing, to culture, and strategy, so as far as I’m concerned, the problem is not with the workforce – the problem is with the companies.

According to this Forbes article, that idea might not be as far off as it seems. The authors feel that building diversity and inclusion from the inception of a company is the quickest way to address the divide, as a “startup, short on history but long on seeking the best talent, provides a good platform for establishing an inclusive organization and work environment.” My view is that like everything else in the corporate world, when market scrutiny increases on CSR and potentially crosses into Federal regulation, companies that have a gap will come looking to “buy” a solution anyway.

There is a demographic sea change happening broadly across the workforce and technology is subject to the shift. In my opinion, companies that build diversity into their DNA and have inclusion as a principle instead of a target will have the best chance to be successful in the new economy. The beautiful part of my dream for the future is that you won’t have to worry about changing an organization to match reality – because those that don’t will no longer exist.