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February 6, 2017

Here’s how you really solve tech’s diversity problem

Kelli Dragovich at Hired looks at how we can really solve the tech industry's diversity problem.

By Ellie Burns

I probably don’t need to tell you the tech industry has a diversity problem. The numbers do that on their own. A quick look at the gender and ethnicity numbers of top tech firms tells you two things about their employees: they’re mostly white and they’re mostly men.

That’s not a dig at the companies involved. There are many factors at play here that I’ll cover later in this article. And the issue isn’t necessarily born of an intentional desire to exclude, but rather unconscious human biases.

This isn’t just a social issue, by the way (though I do believe diversity and inclusiveness

Here’s how you really solve tech’s diversity problem

Kelli Dragovich, SVP, People, Hired

in the workplace has a positive impact on all of us) – it’s a business one. A report by McKinsey & Company claimed $12 billion could be added to the global GDP by 2025 “if every country matched the progress toward gender parity of its fastest improving neighbour.” And when a study by the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI) found companies with ‘two-dimensional’ diversity – made up of inherent diversity (traits like race and gender) and acquired diversity (based on skills and experience) – were 45 per cent more likely to have expanded market share than those without, and 70 per cent more likely to have captured a new market.

But this is no quick fix. And while I applaud high-profile brands like Microsoft and Google for releasing demographic data, as long as we’re only focused on the numbers we’ll never quite get it right.

So how do businesses move past this mentality of obsessing only over the numbers? As I said, the answer isn’t straightforward. But there are some steps companies can take now that will help us all live and work in a more diverse industry in future.


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Be honest, even if it hurts

Nobody wants to admit their business has a problem with inclusiveness. But the first step towards fixing a problem is recognising it exists. It’s time for organisations to look inwards and ask how diverse their workplace really is, beyond just the numbers. Are employees being treated well and fairly? Is inclusion taken into account when it comes to internal decisions?

The CBI released a report making the case for an inclusive workforce, in which it highlighted a number of firms that have put inclusion at the heart of their business. Workplaces that are both diverse and inclusive, the report argued, see higher individual performance levels because employees are more engaged and better able to innovate.

But while efforts across the industry provide a dose of optimism, a well-balanced approach is what we really need. You could be the most diverse company in the world on paper, but if you’re not fostering a positive environment for employees of all backgrounds then the numbers count for little.


Provide equal and consistent compensation

Our “Women, Work and the State of Wage Inequality” study last year found the median of salaries offered to women working in tech is 9% lower than their male colleagues – the equivalent of £5,000 a year.

The progression towards equal pay in the tech industry appears to be stagnant, but how do you determine whether your employees are being paid fairly? And how do you fix it if they’re not?

Taking a data-based approach to compensation is one important element. Traditional means of determining compensation for new or existing employees tend to favour individuals who are good at negotiating, whereas basing employees’ salaries on market data takes the guesswork and human bias out of the equation. Basing compensation across all employees on third-party salary data from organisations like PayScale means employees don’t have to perpetuate biases that might otherwise have followed a candidate through their career.

At Hired we provide candidates with a Talent Advocate – somebody who can work with them to help set their preferred salary, not driven by what they currently earn but on what their market rate is, based on data. Again, this gives people the knowledge and confidence to ask for the salary they actually deserve, rather than the salary someone else has decided they deserve, which might have been influenced by that person’s own biases.


Remove the bias from hiring

If you want to achieve a more diverse workforce, your hiring process needs to reflect that. Unfortunately, many organisations suffer from biases in their sourcing and interviewing processes, even though they’re generally not intentional. This is a basic fact of human nature.

A recent experiment asked staff at a science faculty to assess a student’s CV. The student was randomly assigned either a male or female name but the CV everyone saw was otherwise identical. Both male and female participants rated the male candidate as significantly more competent than the identical female one, and they also suggested a higher salary for the male applicant.

Whether we know it or not, we rate people through the lens of preconceptions that are often beyond our control.

But let’s be optimistic – as I mentioned above, being aware of a problem is the first step to fixing it. At Hired we have a feature where employers can choose not to see candidates’ names and faces when looking for talent on our site – eliminating the chance of unconscious bias based on gender, ethnicity or looks.

And through training it’s possible to improve that interview process. Facebook, for example, has created a ‘Managing Unconscious Bias’ video series for its staff. The videos include tips on how to manage first impressions, how to avoid stereotyping and how to recognise and avoid the various different types of unconscious bias that could cause managers to miss out on great hires.

Or worse: make bad ones.

diveristy problem

Work together as an industry

In the 2014/15 academic year, 63,000 graduates studied computer science in the UK, and 85 per cent of them were male. And gender isn’t the only issue – according to diversity campaign group WISE, the majority of young people taking STEM subjects from school to higher education are not only male but also white and middle-class, with low-income groups being particularly unlikely to study them.

Instead of competing over the same, perpetually shallow pool of underrepresented candidates in a bid to tick their own diversity box, individual technology companies are better off combining efforts to create a larger and more diverse and inclusive talent pool for all. This isn’t a zero-sum game. Underrepresented candidates are by their very nature in short supply, and a bunch of companies fighting to employ them just to balance out percentages is not a long-term solution at all. A useful diversity and inclusion (DE&I) strategy is one that helps increase the pool of talent across these unrepresented groups over time.

Education isn’t a bad place to start. It’s a fair assumption that if you encourage enough underrepresented people into technology fields at university level a good proportion of them will go on to work in the industry.

WISE is a perfect example of this – a group of individuals, charities, companies and educational institutions that aims to encourage more women into science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) by providing career opportunities and support at the other end.


Make it more than a box-ticking exercise

The point of this article is not to assign blame. It’s about creating an industry that feels positive and inclusive for everyone.

To do that you have to go way beyond the numbers. Having an equal amount of men and women or different ethnicities in a company does not automatically make it inclusive. Those individuals need to know they are treated in the same way and have the same opportunities as everyone else – whether it’s their salary or promotions or the kind of work they’re doing.

Again, I can’t stress enough that there are real business benefits in achieving this. Let’s go back to that CTI study I mentioned earlier: teams with one or more member who shares a client’s ethnicity are more than twice as likely to understand that client.

The reality is that our society is becoming increasingly diverse. The number of UK people describing themselves as ‘white British’ fell from 87% in 2001 to 80% in 2011. And guess what? More than half the population is female.

It’s therefore safe to assume that your customers are becoming more diverse. If your workforce doesn’t reflect your customer base then as a business you’ll find it harder to empathise with them. And if you can’t empathise with them you can’t possibly know how to solve their problems or build strong relationships.

But more importantly than any of that: when our workplaces are diverse and inclusive, it permeates the rest of society. We all get to live and work in a more open and optimistic environment.

Isn’t that worth a shot?

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