"Must-Dos" in the Race to Diversify Tech

There is no longer a debate about whether or not diversity helps the bottom line of any organization. This acknowledgement is key for the survival of tech companies who's target market generally include people of all genders, races and age demographics.

Photo: Tim Hussin / Special To The San Francisco Gate Chronicle

Photo: Tim Hussin / Special To The San Francisco Gate Chronicle

Last year, tech companies began to release their diversity statistics turning the debate about diversity into much needed action. Not-so-shocking but very unfortunate data was revealed. The workforces of Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft included an average of 4% Hispanic, 2.5% Black, 2% mixed and less than 2.7% other. Let's put that into perspective:

Google who reported having 53,600 employees across 70 offices in the year 2014 has a workforce that looks like this:

  • 2% Hispanic = 1,702 Hispanic
  • 1% Black = 536 Black
  • 3% Mixed = 1,608 Mixed
  • <1% Other = <536 Other

I don't know about you, but to me, a woman of color, those numbers are daunting. They bring up memories of being the only person of color in the classroom or office. And then I suddenly reminisce on moments when I tried to ignore the over-use and miss-use of the word ghetto or my coworkers' attempts to connect with me by reciting rap lyrics or talking about The Wire. Not to mention that one white Jewish boss I had who saw his self as an authority on all things black culture. Oh yes, him. I have a special place in my heart for the black history fact quizzes he'd attempt to give me. But what I remember most is the ball in my throat that gathered as I decided whether or not to address culturally insensitive acts. The fear of being the only black person and being perceived as an "angry black woman" is most memorable. There was no power in the number one.

So what's the solution? The big tech companies are throwing solutions left and right in the form of dollars to solve the issue of lacking diversity. Apple is donating $50 million dollars to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and the National Center for Women and Information Technology to go toward scholarships, college training programs and paid internships. Google plans to spend $150 million on both internal and external diversity efforts. While Intel as a whole has pledged to invest $300 million in hiring more women and minorities,  Intel Capital Diversity Fund is investing $125 million dollars in minority-led startups. And that's just a few of the dollars being spent in the race (no pun intended) to make the tech industry look more like America and the audiences it serves.

Ok, great. You threw some money at the problem and the tech family picture will hopefully be more colorful by 2020. Right? Ehh... Maybe? As many of the major organizations in the industry have began to publish their stats for 2015 there doesn't seem to be much change from last year.

While I am no expert on the day-to-day workings of the tech industry (just yet), I think I can point to two major "must-dos" in the plan to diversify the industry that I have yet to see discussed.

1. Use what you got and develop internal mentors and beacons. One of my close friends is a coder. No, but seriously, that black girl can code. I can remember her telling me with a bit of shock that she could code and was good at it. She sometimes talked about her fear and anxiety around being the only girl or not thinking she could do it. One day she made the best mistake of telling her boss, another female coder/unicorn, that she was ready for some much more advanced stuff. And you know what her boss did? She signed her up for a high quality course paid for by the company, moved her desk to sit with the folks doing the more advanced work and had her working on the new projects with a higher position all in just a few months. Did you see what she did there?? She was a mentor and a beacon. She saw someone who was just like her at one point, took an interest and led and guided my friend through all her fear and anxiety right to development and success. People like my friend's boss need to be identified and used as mentors or beacons of light for interested and new diverse techies. It's great that the recruiters are going into diverse schools and using new screening metrics, but when I show up to Google or Facebook for my interview or my first day will I feel comfortable? Will my race or sex feel like another hurdle that I have to face? If tech companies go beyond using it's HR staff and perspective team members to court diverse audiences by including a "potential mentor" in the courting process they might just be able to attract and retain more people of color. Make me feel like someone has my back.

2. Training anyone? There comes a moment in every post when I push training. This post isn't any different. Training is key. Unfortunately, I have seen little if any discussion around intercultural or diversity training for the current or future more diversified staff of these major tech companies. How will they attract more diverse staff if they don't understand the cultural nuances of communicating with these different groups? And if they attract them, how will they manage cultural differences and possible conflicts that spring up from those differences? In order to be most successful these companies are going to have to consider team building in a multicultural context and address the inevitable challenges before they become the cause of employee dissatisfaction and turnover. As two of my favorite trainers say:

...it is easy to mistake the value-added of a simple increase in a team’s diversity or cross-cultural composition, with the value gained by cultivating a quality of interaction that invites diversity and cross-cultural dynamics to thrive and drive a team’s success.

Like all industries I want to see the tech industry successfully diversified so that they can represent today's multicultural and pluralistic world. But more specifically, I want to see them take a true interest in the culture and success of the individuals that become a part of their community by using beacons, inspire-ers and proper knowledge. Then the power of one will be the power of many and someone will always have a techie's back.