On Monday, June 13, 2016, Microsoft announced its $26.2 billion acquisition of LinkedIn. As one of the largest technology deals on record, and the first for Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella, this news was bound to come with some controversy. Peter Cohan, contributing writer for Forbes, stated that the acquisition “fails the four tests of a successful acquisition” in his article, “4 Reasons Microsoft Wasted $26.2 Billion to Buy LinkedIn”. Slack’s Will Oremus took another angle on the need for potential changes to LinkedIn in his article titled, “Microsoft Promises It Won’t Mess Up LinkedIn. But Maybe It Should”. The media continues to speculate and opine on the topic from a traditional business standpoint. As a Diversity professional, however, I have an additional lens from which to view this acquisition, which is as one of the greatest opportunities to date to change around the rather pitiful diversity data story in tech.
Over two years ago, the Reverend Jesse Jackson pushed Google to release its diversity data. The numbers, while atrocious, were not much different from other tech giants, such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Microsoft, which followed Google’s lead only after another push from Jackson. Across the board, Blacks and Hispanics comprised only 2% and 3%-4%, respectively, of a workforce that otherwise accounted for 27% of the total American workforce. Something was definitely not right. Millions of dollars and two years later, we have yet to see any real movement in tech.
Now, I understand that this work takes time and making a noticeable delta change in a workforce of 10,000, even 5,000 plus, will not happen in one, or even two years. I also understand that this work is complicated and requires commitment from the top, not only verbally, but also in the form of dedicated headcount and budget. For many of these companies, this sort of commitment just does not exist. Therein lies a big piece of the problem. However, with this acquisition by old tech of new tech, there is now an opportunity to change this story and now, more than ever, this country needs a positive change in the conversation around equity, equality and race. From Ellen Pao to Ferguson, the uncomfortable conversations around gender discrimination and racism have entered many of our living rooms and workplaces; the longer corporations continue to settle for one and done unconscious bias training, the further behind every company will be in moving its workplaces into and past the 21st century.
These points are significant for they speak to the importance, and the emotional and organizational complexity, of this work. With this recent acquisition, Microsoft has forty years of learning behind it, not only in the tech space, but in the Global D&I space as well. Over the years, it has committed headcount to this function, which has grown, innovated and iterated on various forward-thinking initiatives, and led the way in areas such as Vets. With forty-seven employee networks, Microsoft, and its employees, are not new to the conversation around both diversity and inclusion. Are they a model company for workforce diversity? Not necessarily, but they definitely are an experienced and mature Gen X’er with years of learning in the space.
LinkedIn, on the other hand, is just nearing adolescence. At fourteen years old, it is very new to the conversation around diversity. In fact, it hired its first Director of Global Inclusion a mere two years ago. Since then, they have been struggling to get their programs up and running. The difference in nomenclature of the function is also telling. Simply, it speaks to a company’s primary focus on Inclusion versus Diversity, which is inherently easier to focus on in a homogenous culture. With inclusion as the primary focus, it is no surprise then that LinkedIn has had such difficulty making progress in the diversity recruiting space. Repeatedly, I have witnessed new tech skip the diversity piece of its D&I journey, with a laser-like focus on inclusion, but doing so leaves behind the important element of diversity, which is the foundation for the original movement towards inclusion. All in all, forward progression in the diversity space requires intent, focus and clear goals. It is only when this commitment is made that an organization can truly move forward along the diversity continuum towards inclusion.
So, here we are, at the forefront of a very costly acquisition, at the beginning of a new chapter both for Microsoft and LinkedIn and hopefully the diversity story in tech. Nadella doesn’t exactly have a great track record for supporting and embodying a positive message around gender diversity. However, his global company of over 100,000 employees does. Like Oremus, I also hope Microsoft messes up LinkedIn a little, not only to ensure that its costly acquisition is profitable from a traditional profit and loss point of view, but also to ruffle its homogenous feathers. While Weiner ensures employees that everything “should be business as usual” and that they will have the same “mission and vision” and “culture and values,” I hope that this is not the case.
As Einstein stated, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” Is it sensible then to hold onto a culture and way of doing things that have resulted in a homogenous workforce? I do not think so, for without diversity, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to compete in an economy in which the current minority will soon be the majority. To better reflect this projected state of diversity, LinkedIn will need to make some changes. If business continues “as usual,” the organizational ecosystem that has perpetuated sameness for over a decade will continue to do so, which will not only hinder forward progression for diversity, but for business overall.
(Note: The author was employed as a contractor at LinkedIn in 2015. For more information about the author’s experience, please view her full bio.)