People, including me, who hold diversity and inclusion close to their hearts cringe when new research is published about the under-representation of women and ethnic minorities within the tech industry. Several recent studies, including one from the Kapor Center for Social Impact and Harris Poll, have found that sexual harassment, bullying and racist stereotyping are common in the technology industry, contributing to so-called “tech leavers.”
A young woman, person of color or someone with a disability reading these things about Silicon Valley is less likely to enter the tech industry, or stay long enough to contribute if they do. However, shedding light on the negative doesn’t by itself accomplish the change within the industry we all desire. We need to focus on action we can take today to change this environment.
So, let’s start with the positive. We know that companies are far more successful and innovative when they leverage diverse talent. In fact, lack of diversity holds organizations back from harnessing all available resources for innovation and growth. A recent McKinsey study found that companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry median. A 2015 study from Bersin by Deloitte showed that diverse companies had 2.3 times higher cash flow per employee over a three-year period than non-diverse companies.
While moving the needle in workplace diversity is no small feat, transforming tech leavers into lifelong employees should be a strategic objective for all organizations. A diverse workforce enables a company to innovate, better understand its customers and maximize employee productivity — all critical issues for the technology industry.
Here are three ways your company can improve diversity and inclusion efforts — and avoid “tech leaver” syndrome:
1. Get C-Suite buy-in.
Organizations need business leaders who accept and champion the idea that embracing diversity and inclusion efforts will create corporate return on investment. Statistics show, diversity can increase economic performance by as much as 2.2 times for profitability and two times stock valuation. To get that buy-in, it’s important to show how diversity and inclusion save money and boost revenue, while also highlighting the long-term value of these initiatives.
For SAP, diversity and inclusion efforts start at the very top. Diversity and inclusion are part of our strategy for the future. These topics are discussed regularly in executive and supervisory board meetings with HR leadership at the executive table. This is crucial to shaping the culture of the organization and being real advocates for employees.
2. Go back to the HR basics.
The greatest obstacle to embracing diversity and inclusion is often not the proof of their value, but resistance to change — both consciously and unconsciously. To combat bias head on, organizations need to re-examine their processes and redesign how they recruit, interview and hire candidates. Organizations must work to recognize, identify and eliminate bias to reap the benefits of a diverse and inclusive workplace.
Consider a job posting for a candidate who needs to be “politically-savvy,” “aggressive,” and “assertive.” These words may not resonate with female candidates and thus, the response for the listing is likely to heavily favor for male candidates. Studies show that men apply for jobs when they feel 60-80 percent qualified for the position, while women apply for jobs when they feel 100-120 percent qualified for the position.
True digital leaders are using technology to identify and eliminate biased language in job listings, ensure that underrepresented colleagues have a voice and create opportunities at all levels of the organization for a more inclusive, innovative and bias-free work environment.
3. Don’t focus on diversity, embrace inclusion.
Many companies focus heavily on diversity in terms of statistics but the better way to ensure a truly bias-free, equality-based effort is to focus on inclusion. Inclusion invites participation from everyone, and is the foundation of a diverse workforce. Employees who feel respected, no matter their background, will have the confidence to authenticly share their perspectives.
Inclusion is important in the efforts that we make personally to embrace all groups, each day. Recently, I was in Japan where I studied local customs and learned that it is appropriate to bow instead of shaking hands. However, my Japanese hosts reflected Western customs. While I was bowing, they reached for a handshake. The greeting may have looked awkward but we each made the effort to embrace the other’s custom. The interaction proved that, fundamentally, inclusion isn’t only about how you lead, but how you act every day.
To encourage inclusion and teamwork inside your organization, arrange group lunches or host conference calls to discuss common professional experiences, share best practices and build relationships. These will help create a stronger sense of community.
The path to greater diversity and inclusion is not easy, but an inclusive environment attracts more applicants to your company and enhances your existing employees’ experience. Happy employees are more productive and engaged, and less likely to become “tech leavers.” Considering how important innovation is to the technology industry, it should strive to foster the most inclusive cultures — not drive people away. By receiving buy-in from the top, using technology to confront unconscious bias and embracing inclusion, we can encourage an industry where all people can thrive!