There's an astonishing lack of diversity in tech, as the data consistently shows.

Candice Morgan, the first-ever head of diversity at Pinterest, says companies should take a cue from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: 

"I will never forget when I was in middle school, and my principal asked me to read Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Dream' speech to my 400 classmates," Morgan told Inc. via email. "A takeaway from Dr. King is that we need to evaluate people fairly -- on what value and skill they bring to their teams." 

Pinterest had set off alarm bells among Silicon Valley employers back in 2013, when Tracey Chou, a software engineer with the company, published a piece on Medium that bemoaned the lack of female workers at her company, and called for better standards across the industry.

Thereafter, for the first time, many tech companies (Yahoo, Google, Facebook and LinkedIn) disclosed their diversity statistics. The results were disappointing, to say the least. LinkedIn, at 61 percent male, and 53 percent white, was the most gender and racially diverse of the pack.

Currently, little progress has been made. Of the major tech companies to come clean with their diversity, eBay is the most gender diverse, with just 24 percent of women holding tech jobs. Yahoo is the most racially diverse, as 31 percent of its workers are white.

Pinterest has now set ambitious goals to improve its own (admittedly lackluster) diversity. Today, 19 percent of its engineers are women, less than 1 percent are black, and roughly 1 percent are Hispanic, according to the company. In 2016, it plans to up its number of women engineers to 30 percent, and its minority engineers to 8 percent.

Morgan, who previously spent 10 years at Catalyst, a non-profit focused on increasing corporate diversity, will help the company to reach these goals, though she has not yet outlined an agenda of her own. 

To start with, Pinterest will begin recruiting from new universities with "Pinterest Engage," its eight-week internship program, along with a one-year apprenticeship. It will be partnering with Paradigm, a startup that helps executives hire a more diverse workforce, and will also solicit more job applications from underrepresented groups.

Still, it's worth noting that a head of diversity is not necessarily the answer to Silicon Valley's woes; consider that Facebook's head of diversity, Maxine Williams, has been largely unsuccessful at improving the status quo, as the portion of white men in tech positions fell just one percent between 2014 and 2015 (84 percent total).

Inc. caught up with Morgan to learn more about the systemic issues at play in the whiteness of the tech industry, as well as how startups can get ahead. 

Here are some of her best tips for founders hoping to create a better, more diverse workforce:

1. Be specific with the criteria a job candidate needs to meet. 

It's perhaps inevitable that an employer will apply bias -- consciously or unconsciously -- to a particular job candidate. To overcome this, Morgan suggests being very specific with the skills that you're looking for in a new hire.

"Hiring processes are at risk when the criteria for skills are vague or inconsistently applied. We know from research that stereotypic bias comes into play without intentional efforts to standardize our evaluations," she says.

Be careful, too, about looking for a "culture fit." Oftentimes, what that really means is screening for peers who look, speak, and act in the same way as you do.

2. There is no quick fix: Lay out a long-term strategy.

In her many years of working with the tech industry, Morgan says that trying to "fix" diversity in one fell swoop is by far the biggest mistake she's seen. 

"They [executives] often tap others to 'fix' diversity -- to go into a conference room and come up with a presentation - without properly realizing they are a part of developing the strategies that will work best for their company," she said.

Instead, employers should commit to outlining a long-term strategy, understanding how it will improve the bottom line, and then hold their teams accountable to specific goals.

3.  Be honest with yourself when something isn't working.

"It's really important to ask yourself what you need to learn, what your peers need to learn, and to ask lots of questions and educate yourself on the experiences of diverse people around you," Morgan said.

Rather than fixating on everything you do know, consider asking: How much do you stand to learn?

It may be worth bringing on a specialist -- be that a head of diversity, or a third-party consulting firm -- to address those gaps. 

Morgan adds that it's important to hold yourself accountable. "Role model the type of inclusive behavior you want to see," she advises.

4.  Make it clear to everyone how diversity will impact your revenues.

It's important to be aware of  why diversity is so important. Show your community how the effects of a diverse workforce extend beyond the walls of your startup headquarters, and often mean racking up more sales. 

"Make connections about how diversity and inclusion can impact your business, like engaging your employees and consumers," Morgan said.

Published on: Jan 15, 2016