Tech Teams Must Practice What They Preach on Diversity
Big tech is getting innovative to solve its lingering diversity problem. From implementing artificial intelligence (AI) hiring tools aimed at eliminating unconscious biases to hosting hackathons that raise funds and awareness for diversity in tech, companies are launching projects to create broader workplace demographics.
The efforts are long overdue. Five years after the largest U.S. technology companies first reported that their teams are predominantly male and overwhelmingly white or Asian, the latest data reported by companies shows Silicon Valley still has a long way to go. At Microsoft and Google, the share of U.S. technical employees who are black or Latino has risen by less than 1 percentage point. Apple's black technical workforce remains stagnant at 6 percent. Facebook has seen its proportion of female technical workers increase—from 15 percent in 2014 to 23 percent in 2019. Google has registered similar growth. But it's still nowhere near parity.
“I would characterize where we are now as a leap forward over the last 10 years and several steps sideways and a few steps backward,” Freada Kapor Klein, co-founder of the Kapor Center for Social Impact, told TechCrunch in June.
—Freada Kapor Klein, Kapor Center for Social Impact, to TechCrunch
While there's plenty of motivation to level the field, the newest initiatives to increase diversity projects are more than a feel-good gesture—they impact a company's bottom line, says Margie Lee-Johnson, vice president of people, Checkr, San Francisco, California, USA.
“A lot of tech companies struggle with getting diverse employees, but companies that need to be innovative need to be diverse,” Ms. Lee-Johnson says.
Walk the Walk
At Checkr, which uses AI to run fair and efficient background checks, the company realized that for its inclusivity initiatives to pay off, it would have to be just that—inclusive. When the executive team implemented a policy that hiring managers must interview at least two candidates from underrepresented groups, managers pushed back, claiming the requirement would slow the process.
Google staffers at the company's headquarters in Mountain View, California, USA
PHOTO COURTESY OF GOOGLE
“The lesson learned was not just to have a top-down approach to these initiatives, but to make them more collaborative, to engage the employee population in the projects’ design,” Ms. Lee-Johnson says.
Checkr applied that lesson on a project last year to compile a publicly available e-book tracking the company's progress on diversity and inclusion. The team sought employee feedback from the start, asking them for input on the company-wide survey questions. “We engaged them on every aspect of the planning and execution of the e-book project,” Ms. Lee-Johnson says. That practice-what-you-preach approach built buy-in that carried over into future initiatives.
When executives realized that many employees from diverse backgrounds were unaware of the company services available to them, Checkr launched a private message board for employees to share experiences and discuss their needs. “Managers used to think we were slowing them down. Now, they've bought into the importance of diversity,” she says.
Spread the Word
Last year, OneLogin completed a project to roll out an AI hiring tool that is already demonstrating real results: a 40 percent increase in ethnically diverse candidates and a 20 percent increase in women candidates. But the team didn't want to stop there.
“We needed to send out signals that we are a diverse employer, so we could increase our pipeline of diverse candidates,” says Minoo Ayat, head of global talent, OneLogin, San Francisco.
So the cloud-computing company showed its colors, across a number of initiatives. For instance, the organization has thrown its support behind diversity trainings and efforts to bring more diversity into cybersecurity. Over the course of 2019, OneLogin increased its employee diversity from 26 percent to 33 percent.—Novid Parsi
Inching Toward Inclusion
Source: Company-reported data compiled by Wired, 2019