Diversity Is Hard, Says Obama. And The Figures Show We Have A Long Way To Go To Get It Right .

President Obama has delivered his farewell address in Chicago, ending his eight-year administration with unemployment near a ten-year low and with wages and incomes on the rise.

But amidst all the applause, Obama acknowledged that the progress that had been made wasn’t enough.

Obama pointed to race relations and suspicion of immigrants as a threat to democracy, despite incomes rising for all races, age groups, and both genders during his presidency.

“If we’re going to be serious about race going forward, we need to uphold laws against discrimination — in hiring, and in housing, and in education, and in the criminal justice system.”

The unfortunate truth is that race continues to be a struggle in recruitment in America.

In 2015, Facebook implemented an internal recruiting strategy using incentives for recruiters to hire more female, black and Latino software engineers.

“Facebook recruits from hundreds of schools and employers from all over the world, and most people hired at Facebook do not come through referrals from anyone at the company,” a company spokeswoman told Bloomberg News.

“We remain acutely focused on improving our ability to hire people with different backgrounds and perspectives.”

Unfortunately, it barely made a difference. The proportion of women employed in tech at Facebook rose from 16 to 17 percent. The proportion of black (1%) and Latino (3%) US tech workers didn’t change at all. And that’s despite generous incentives to recruiters for people from those groups to be hired.

It’s a sentiment echoed in companies across America, but most especially in tech, where HR departments are keen to show that it’s possible to have more diversity amongst staff.

Last year, Pinterest hired a head of diversity and inclusion, Candice Morgan, and published a set of diversity-focused hiring goals.

The company hit its target of eight percent in engineering hires of under-represented ethnic minorities but fell short of its 30 percent target for new female engineers — only reaching 22 percent.

“Setting public goals focused and encouraged the team to have more authentic conversations and learn more about how to make meaningful progress,” Morgan told Bloomberg.

“They’ve resulted in the most diverse team Pinterest has had to date.”

Pinterest also launched two programs, The Pinterest Apprenticeship Program and Pinterest Engage for engineers from non-traditional tech backgrounds or underrepresented backgrounds.

However, according to a study released last year, there are more than a few pitfalls to be careful about when introducing such programs. Study authors Tessa L. Dover, Cheryl R. Kaiser and Brenda Major, say diversity policies rarely make companies fairer, and that they may make high-status groups, like white men, feel threatened.

“This may be one explanation for the lackluster success of most diversity management attempts: when people feel threatened, they may resist efforts to make the workplace more inclusive,” they wrote in the Harvard Business Review.

Unfortunately, while people assume diversity policies make companies fairer for women and minorities, the data suggests otherwise.

Another study of 700 US companies found that implementing diversity training programs has little positive effect and may even decrease representation of black women. In fact, people will often point to the presence of the diversity plan to discount any claims of unfair treatment.

The research shows that dominant groups tend to believe that the system is generally fair because that’s the world they have experienced.

It was a sentiment echoed by President Obama in his farewell address.

Laws alone won’t be enough, he said, pointing out that it won’t change overnight.

“Social attitudes oftentimes take generations to change. But if our democracy is to work the way it should in this increasingly diverse nation, then each one of us need to try to heed the advice of a great character in American fiction, Atticus Finch, who said “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

“We have to pay attention and listen.”

Originally published at blog.1-page.com on January 13, 2017.