Diversity today is a proxy

“Big Tech Co Releases Diversity Report. Nothing has changed.”

There are many reasons why a company would need diversity. Diversity brings multiple views to the table. It allows the user base to have demographic representation in product development. It is good for marketing and branding. It is great for hiring diverse candidates. Why has diversity gotten such a large amount of press lately? It’s an easy go-to issue that has been hyped while the hard work necessary to making it a reality is obfuscated from the public.

The reports that are getting released are mostly trash if we’re being completely honest. The big companies and venture firms know this. They will claim issues like the pipeline and other things like retention/diversity training. Most of it is high level, well-worded, BS. Where are the outcome projections and commitments to long-term solutions? Few companies even provide reports. But this is not the point.

They need to change their thinking behind their reporting. Sure some companies don’t provide proper segmentation. Some don’t consider age as an important factor when tracking diversity. We are asking for them to do what is directly against their previous processes. These big co’s have optimized a funnel that recruits from their closed networks. However, diversity is not what we really want. Ok, yes, we want proper representation. We don’t want the backlash and naysayers to complain about lowering the quality of new hires for the sake of diversity.

There is more to diversity than race, gender, age, socioeconomic status, etc. When we are building companies we are creating an organizational structure that optimizes for productivity. I believe diversity must exist on a team level and extend upwards and outwards throughout the ranks of an organization. This diversity is not the diversity of today. If your team has 3 people, designer, developer, and product manager, then there is no way for that team to reflect the 7 major demographics that are represented in your user base.

We are looking for diversity of thought. When companies hire their next engineer, that engineer will probably have a similar mindset to the other engineers at the company. I like to consider the example of college CS majors. If you have a black and white CS major from Stanford, there is a high chance their thinking patterns are the same. Their content for learning was the same. If you compare the black CS from Stanford to another black CS major from Iowa State you’ll have a higher probability chance of their thought differing greatly from the to Stanford students. Making simplifying assumptions like this can end badly, but what do I really mean by thinking?

When solving any new problem, an individual’s diverse experience is called upon to deliver a way of thinking previously used to solve the new problem. Therefore, an individual’s stored and active mental models, are a function of their past experiences and issues dealt with, obviously. What we don’t want as a collective is for the two CS Stanford students to get hired and consider that diversity to be the same as if the black Iowa State and white Stanford CS majors were hired.

OK, I’ve made this as confusing as possible. You’re thinking, you don’t want diversity? No. I believe we need this demographic definition of diversity as the current best proxy, but we need to go deeper. This is the actual problem I’m presenting to you and am hoping to find a solution for. If we want to optimize teams and the resultant companies we must be able to evaluate an individual’s mental models in the interview and on the job. If we cannot, and do not then we run the risk of creating a diverse workforce based on outward criteria, but in reality you have very much the “same” or “similar” people doing the work. I love thinking about the kid in Afghanistan, Peru, Philippines, Alaska, or the Netherlands who has the capacity to do my job as well or better because of the unique problems and situations they’ve encountered due to their environment.

If we think back to the diversity problems at hand today, we know classical diversity needs to be implemented earlier in company formation. Older companies need to refresh their hiring and retention practices. These problems will be fixed with time and generational shifts in mindset. Looking at the previous scenario of a team of 3 working to serve the needs of 7 demographics in their user base, we will need to find a way to first create teams that when placed together understand their user’s thinking (currently obtained through customer interviews). Secondly, in order to solve new exciting problems we need to augment their thinking to include mental models not expressed by their teammates.