January 16, 2021 6 min read
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Diversity has been the talk of tech for years now, but little progress is actually being made. In the last half-decade, Facebook’s proportion of black employees has gone from 3% to 3.8% — hardly any change at all.
On the surface, it would seem as though tech is undergoing an epidemic of good intentions. Nearly every company sets high diversity expectations, and yet little changes from quarter to quarter.
What is preventing these diversity initiatives from working? Tech cultures that are far too insular, and tech leaders unwilling to change them.
Bursting tech’s bubble
What leaders fail to understand is that diverse candidates can’t necessarily see their efforts as they happen. The Bay Area might seem big for those who are there, but the reality is that businesses there are predominantly chasing the same talent. Individual teams may get shaken up, but it’s mostly just trading individuals between companies instead of incorporating new talent.
Are big tech companies pouring in resources to recruiting at HBCUs? Is Google carefully auditing its vendors, making sure they’re achieving maximum diversity in the process? Are first-time, minority entrepreneurs being given the grants they deserve?
Tech needs outreach if it wants to do more than just change the window dressings. It’s not just the giants that need to shake things up either. Small startups need to press themselves on diversity as much as their big siblings do.
Tangible goals to live up to
Your business may not have the clout of Facebook or the market cap of Tesla, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to make an impact. A few things that companies of all sizes can do include:
Invest in new talent
Nearly 30% of black graduates of STEM doctoral programs begin at a historically black college or university. If those students had their education supported by big-name players like Google or Airbnb, which companies do you think those graduates would be most likely to work for?
Few businesses, however, have the capital on hand to simply whip up scholarships out of the air. Real solutions here require long-term, high-level planning.
In conjunction with other top-level employees or board members at your business, put together a plan to get your company’s funding into the minority talent pipeline.
It doesn’t need to be a scholarship if your business can’t afford to create one. Even something like paid internships for recent graduates of color can go a long way in making diversity a real part of your business. For companies looking to make these changes in the long term, set a target to convert some of those into full-time jobs. Over time, you can share this model with vendors and sister companies to make your entire network as diverse as it should be.
Prioritize diverse vendors
Microsoft alone has well over 70,000 vendors. If Microsoft took a hard stance on the diversity of its vendors, they could reach millions of people with their policies. Microsoft does, in fact, have a supplier diversity program — but not many other companies do.
Fighting for diversity among your vendors means choosing those who work best with your business and who could benefit the most from your business. To help find diverse suppliers, Tracey Grace, a black woman entrepreneur in the tech industry, founded a vendor diversity platform called Certifiably Diverse to highlight suppliers with diversity certifications, such as WBE, 8(a) firms and MBEs. At a glance, users of Certifiably Diverse can see exactly how much of their business goes towards minority and women-owned businesses.
Case in point, supporting diverse vendors goes hand-in-hand with making good business decisions. This doesn’t mean you should end healthy relationships with existing vendors, just that your new vendors should reflect the diversity goals you’ve set.
Campaign on your own platforms
You don’t have to be a big dog to leverage your own platform. Sure, make it clear on your website, marketing materials and external communications how seriously you take diversity, but you can still take it a step further. Use your platform to emphasize your stance, and if you can, use that stance to funnel diverse talent into your company.
I’m tired of politics. You’re tired of politics — and for good reason too. Tech companies holding an ambiguous position on political issues, however, only hurt their reputation with minority communities in the long run.
Social media users of color are more likely to use these platforms politically than white users are. A study conducted by Pew Research Center recently found that Black users are 50% more likely to encourage others to take tangible action on important political issues than white users are. The younger they are, the more engaged they are as well — so actions you take now may take a while to start paying off in full.
Again, make sure this policy extends to your vendors as well. Goods Unite Us catalogs the political commitments of hundreds of different brands, making sure that you can know where your money is going ahead of time.
Raising the ceiling
Tech’s lack of diversity is a firm ceiling, and it’s not made of glass — no ceiling that strong could be shattered so easily.
No longer can tech companies blame a lack of awareness: social issues are staring them right in the face, and candidates of color are clamoring to be taken seriously. Now is the time for action.
Cultural boundaries are thick, tough and hard to see over — but they’re far from unbreakable. If they want to see industry-wide change, tech leaders need to be prepared to start by knocking down their own first.