It's fitting that on Martin Luther King Day, we take stock of how far the nation has come toward hitting Dr. King's ideal for a more perfect union. Sanctioned segregation is no more, suffrage is (mostly) universal and for the first time in history an African American male is president of the United States. But, in the world of business especially, diversity--a goal for which King fought fervently--remains elusive.
Over the summer, at the prompting of Reverend Jesse Jackson, a slew of Silicon Valley tech companies publicly disclosed their gender and racial make up, including Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft, LinkedIn, Twitter, eBay and Apple. The statistics were underwhelming, to say the least.
Employees are predominately white and male (particularly in the upper echelons), with LinkedIn--the most racially diverse of the group--having 34 percent white tech workers nationally, and eBay--the most gender diverse--having 76 percent male tech workers globally. On Thursday, seed accelerator Y Combinator disclosed its own demographic data: Of the founders it funded in the most recent batch of applicants, 11.1 percent are women, 3.7 percent are Hispanic, and 4 percent are African American.
That's a fairly poor picture of diversity in tech, and one that Dr. King would surely take issue with today. A leader of the civil rights movement--whose legacy was recently highlighted in the Oscar-nominated film Selma--Dr. King fought to end racial segregation in the U.S. during the 1950s and 60s. Yet if Silicon Valley's diversity data is any indication, the workplace is far from integrated--and that's liable to have disatrous affects on business in the long run.
Inc. spoke with a handful of companies for whom diversity is as much a reality as it is a priority, though each acknowledged that it still had room to grow. In honor of Dr. King's war on inequality, here's some practical advice for how you can further develop your workforce:
Create a value statement.
At Vaya Consulting, founder and CEO Nicole Sanchez knows a thing or two about diversity. Her Berkeley, California-based startup advises fast-growth companies on how to become more inclusive. Sanchez, who is herself Latina, pushes back against the notion that the lack of diversity in tech is a pipeline issue: "It's patently false that there are no black engineers," she says. "Clearly there's something going on culturally."
To start, companies looking to improve should create an overall value statement for why diversity matters. "There needs to be a connection between diversity and your larger business proposition," says Sanchez. That's something that Pinterest, one of Vaya Consulting's high performing clients, recently took to heart.
At 60 percent male and 40 percent female, Pinterest's gender ratio is higher than the Silicon Valley norm, which is 72 percent male and 28 percent female, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis. Yet with 50 percent of staffers identifying as Caucasian, the San Francisco-based visual bookmarking site has ample room to improve. In February of last year, the company launched its first major diversity push, hosting the Code Documentary kick-off film as an external event in May, according to Pinterest's Diversity Programs Manager Kate Fiedelman. The Code Documentary looks at the glaring lack of women in software engineering, and calls for society to "debug the gender gap."
Since then, Pinterest lends its support to a variety of women and minority-focused organizations, including Code 2040 and Girls Who Code. It holds interview training workshops for students, as well as a hiring event at the annual Grace Hopper conference. Businesses should stop looking for a 'quick fix' when it comes to diversity, Fiedelman says, adding: Instead, inclusion must become integral to your company's culture.
Focus less on 'like-ability.'
Your desire to like and be liked by others may be inadvertently affecting your ability to recruit (and maintain) a diverse workforce, suggests Jason Young, co-founder and CEO of the Oakland, California-based education technology startup Mindblown Labs. When entrepreneurs seek an interpersonal connection with job candidates--as often happens in Silicon Valley--they may be excluding those candidates who are equally competent. In other words, you shouldn't only seek an emotional connection with candidates, he says.
It's about hiring for skill and job fit, adds Young, whose employees are roughly 75 percent minority and 25 percent women.
"When I think about how I assembled this team," Young says, "I purposefully didn't choose people who were like me." His top piece of advice for business owners seeking diversity is to look farther afield for talent, rather than only hire from your existing networks, which may not be all that diverse. Young personally recruited his first five employees by traveling to college campuses across the country.
Don't prejudge yourself or employees.
Acceptance doesn't just apply to how people look, but also to how they think and reason. That's why James Norman, founder and CEO of the video streaming company Pilot.ly (formerly GroupFlix)--which plans to launch its service by the end of the first quarter--advises businesses to stop recruiting exclusively from brand-name schools. In terms of diversity, he says, "when you meet someone who is very different from you, you'll have to evaluate the way they solve problems and the way that they communicate in a slightly different way."
That's something the Oakland, California-based entrepreneur has had plenty of experience with. He's African American, and his five employees hail from different ethnic backgrounds too. Three are Indian, one is Hispanic and one is Caucasian. Plus, he freely admits that he doesn't fit the prototypical entrepreneur mold. He taught himself to code after attending college, rather than studying it in school like many of his counterparts.
"I'm not the traditional look of someone who starts companies," he says. "But I've built my mind to work a certain way, and to work within the confines of what I can do to be successful in Silicon Valley."
On the day that we remember Dr. King's battle for justice and inclusion, consider what else you could be doing to ensure that your business better reflects society as a whole.
Corrections & Amplifications: An earlier version of this article was changed to reflect a different composition of minority and non-minority employees of Mindblown Labs. The co-founder inaccurately reported his company's make up prior to publishing.