The diversity bad bank

Malte Ubl
Malte Ubl
Jul 11, 2017 · 2 min read

I usually don’t feel like I, as a white male, should write about diversity in tech. But it seems like it might be the right time to write a post directed to those of you who put up the pipeline problem as an excuse for not hiring diverse teams.

Here is the thing: There might actually be a pipeline problem. It is just different from what you think. You have a pipeline problem, because the the candidates from underrepresented groups in tech don’t want to work for you.

Being the only one of some sub group in a larger group is always terrible. I used to work in agencies, which had lots of projects with widely varying team distributions and I learned: The same people behave very different depending on the environment. All-male teams have what might be called “locker room talk”. Nothing like that would occur in diverse teams. But the team that has 1 or 2 women: The locker room talk is still there. Would I want to be a woman in that otherwise all male team: Hell, no.

If your organization has many teams where each one has a small count of members of underrepresented groups you have effectively gerrymandered your organization.

Excuse the overstretched analogy, but many companies pack their underrepresented groups into teams as in the “Districts are compact & unfair” example.

If you neglected hiring a diverse team early in the process, it will be incredibly hard to fix it, because the first people who break your pattern will have a bad time. And it is not their job to suffer through that bad time just so you can eventually have a diverse team.

With that, here is my slightly provocative proposal for fixing your 15 people startup with 14 guys, because lets face it, you won’t fire 7 of them and hire 7 women:

Start a diversity bad bank. Put the 14 guys in a team, and make a new team that has great diversity. The 14 guys are your bad bank. Maybe initially only 3 or 4 people are on the new team. Start hiring into this team with diversity in mind. Put in the effort to reach out. Tell candidates that they get to work in a diverse team. As things grow, slowly move members of the 14 into your good business–or in the gerrymandering analogy: Try to get to 3 purple district as fast as you can. Maybe eventually you can close the bad bank.

Is this perfect? No, people from the new team will still have to talk to the bad bank. Does it even work? I don’t know. But it certainly seems better than putting the burden on your more diverse hires to put up with the 14.

Malte Ubl

Written by

Malte Ubl

Tech lead of the AMP Project. JavaScript infrastructure at Google. Curator of @JSConfEU