Perhaps as a result of our current political climate, more and more companies are looking within at their own demographics and attempting to tackle the issue of diversity. The tech industry in particular has been subject to a great deal of scrutiny, for its perceived homogeneity and lack of variance in both gender and racial identity.
While many would agree that diversity can only be a good thing for companies trying to stay relevant in a global context, some companies have faced backlash for attempting to diversify. According to The New York Times, Google is currently facing lawsuits from former employees for both taking diversity "too far," and for not doing enough in the way of diversity. This begs the question, is there a "right" way to diversify? And if so, what is it?
I come from a unique perspective. As a Chinese-Canadian entrepreneur and CEO in the tech space, I do see very different levels of representation in the corporate ladder. It is safe to say that there is still work to be done to make sure that people of all backgrounds are thoroughly and accurately represented across the board.
1. Know your industry (and Its complex issues).
As both a CEO and someone who is simply passionate about diversity and representation, it's my responsibility to be aware of the specific diversity issues in my industry and do my best to combat them.
For example, I'm an Asian man in tech--not exactly an unlikely duo, and I'm more than willing to admit that. But I also know that as far as CEOs go, being Chinese-American does actually make me "underrepresented." It's not as simple as being either a minority or a member of the majority; to truly tackle diversity, we must understand all of its nuances, or at least attempt to.
2. Take things public (or private).
Google has a workplace culture in which employees are encouraged to discuss a variety of ideas and challenge one another. This is excellent in the sense that employees are not required to completely censor themselves the way our parents pretty much were in their own workplaces.
However, public discussion isn't for everyone, and your employees still need to have somewhere they can go to air their grievances if a co-worker confrontation doesn't appeal to them. Having a reliable, trustworthy HR department (that is diverse itself) is crucial, even in the most free-thinking of workplaces.
At Kiip, we're leading by example by ensuring the candidate pools we source from are already representative of all backgrounds. It all starts with the source. We hope that sooner rather than later, the industry will reach a point where this is a given.
3. Be conscious.
A common way that companies cop out of diversity is by erasing it as a concept altogether; comments like "we just need someone who can get the job done" or "we don't care what you look like" are well-intentioned but misguided. You should be looking specifically for diverse talent, for any kind of project or task that needs a leader.
It's likely that your more diverse talent may not feel as confident or seen, and may not necessarily immediately step up when it comes time for someone to take the reigns. It's your job to recognize diverse talent, and say, "Hey X, I think you would be really terrific for this position. Are you interested?" If you make it clear to your employees that you are always considering all types of people for opportunities, you will create an environment where more people feel confident volunteering for those opportunities without any prompting.
4. Keep the conversation going.
Lots of companies will have a specific day or event dedicated to diversification; some sort of panel discussion or seminar that gets everyone out of work for three hours. While these types of events are great introductions to diversification, most of the time they only scratch the surface.
Diversity efforts should be ever-present and ongoing; the concept should be part of virtually all conversations about your product, your business and your company itself. Furthermore, it doesn't always have to be so formal or serious; something as simple as recognizing different cultural holidays on an office-wide level emphasizes the importance of diversity without centering the conversation around trauma or pain.
If you are going to have diversity-focused seminars or other types of training, the U.S. Tennis Association recommends making it non-threatening. Acknowledge the unconscious biases that live within all of us, and identify and confront them together, rather than tearing people down for having them.