In a recent NPR segment titled “Can Silicon Valley Bridge Its Diversity Gap?”, Freada Kapor Klein, a Partner at the Kapor Center for Social Impact, cited tech’s transition from the traditional HR organization to People Operations as an indicator that “tech is using tech to solve its diversity problems.” While this statement has some validity, I do think the term “solve” is inaccurate for…
If tech were really using tech to solve its diversity problems, the industry would be further along in its diversity journey than it currently stands.
I realize that the industry as a whole is relatively young compared to other more traditional industries, such as finance, and thus is newer in its diversity journey. I also realize that tech moves at a much faster pace than many other industries, is in constant flux and hires in massive numbers, within a short timeframe, to stay ahead of its competitors. With this said, I also realize that it will take more than two years to turn around years of homogeneous hiring. It requires short- and long-term solutions not only focused on pipeline building and hiring, but also on relationship building and education in communities of color.
Google has been a leader in this second area, launching its HBCU Initiative, which focuses on these genuine relationships, while Apple, Facebook and Intel have followed suite with more expansive programs. The world has yet to see the results of any of these initiatives, which is by no means a surprise as these are true long-term strategies. However, they do only begin to scratch the surface of a bigger societal issue, which points to the lack of education in and exposure to careers in CS and Engineering in underrepresented communities of color. This is where the Chicago Public Schools has taken the education piece into its own hands, requiring freshmen to complete a course in CS by the time they graduate.
Tech companies have also implemented unconscious bias training programs. However, many of these programs only address the need for understanding of the issues at hand, and neglect to do the harder part of this work, which is assessing for changed behavior at various points after training. In addition to programs such as these, companies such as Intel have committed the financial and people resources to address this dilemma. Whether these dollars and people are allocated in a way that supports progress is still yet to be determined.
However, even with all of these measures in place, there is still a big elephant in the room: that regarding culture. As Wilkerson, an African-American engineerstates, "I was in the industry…It's not so much that they can't find us. We exist. It's the environment that doesn't keep us…That is something that companies are going to have to come to grips with." So, even with all these measures to recruit, tech is left with the challenge of evolving entire organizational cultures that have been based on a past of homogeneity. This sort of change is a huge ask of any company, but especially of those companies that have traditionally been applauded and admired for their unique cultural attributes that seem to then be tied to profit and success. Whether these cultures are mutually exclusive to these other factors is yet to be determined. The main point is that culture is often the main sticking point in terms of the retention of diverse communities. This is where diversity AND inclusion are critical in both the recruitment AND retention of employees, especially those of diverse backgrounds. This is also where People Ops can look to retention, attrition and engagement data to inform solutions.
So, while tech has taken steps to use tech and its enormous amounts of people data to critically examine, analyze and problem solve for its diversity dilemma, it by no means has used tech to “solve” this dilemma. If that were the case, I would not be reading article after article about the continued lack of diversity in the industry. How are we to then permanently “solve” the issue?
I don’t have a simple answer. What I do know is that almost a year after publishing my series of posts on the topic, and launching my own consultancy, is that this work is complicatedly intertwined, not only across functions within a company, but with society itself. During one meeting, I remember being asked, “What do you think is the number one challenge for diversity recruiting?” I had to take a minute and sit back and think. In answering her, I still referenced my top reason cited a year ago, which is lack of leadership commitment. However, again, as tech has proven, there is no simple answer or solution to this very grey area. If there were, tech, of all the industries, would have solved it by now. Instead, there are a variety of interwoven strategies, short- and long-term and internal and external, required for success. This is where this work gets teeth and how it makes permanent progress.