Today, Atlassian released a report “State of Diversity 2018.” As someone who has been actively working with companies on diversity and inclusion for over 20 years, I am thrilled to see the work of Aubrey Blanche and her team. This rich data set takes a vital pulse of our industry’s attitudes and challenges when it comes to diversity and inclusion.
While there is a myriad of valuable data to dissect, I want to focus on one particular trend highlighted by the Atlassian data, which is mirrored in the experience of my consulting firm, Vaya: People overwhelmingly express that they care about diversity, but when it comes to action, Silicon Valley’s “growth mindset” comes to a screeching halt.
As a D&I practitioner, I spend my time in the often unglamorous day-to-day work of building sustainable, impactful initiatives. The vast majority of this work does not make for titillating Silicon Valley headlines, despite what gets the most clicks. But this is what determines whether D&I thrives or perishes at a company and, eventually, in our sector.
Every day I speak with tech employees about company culture. I am continually impressed by the curiosity and eagerness with which individual contributors and many managers want to tackle D&I. As we see in Atlassian’s report, 80% of respondents agree that D&I is important. Even when they don’t know how to do it, employees are often willing to learn, which is a great place to start.
But employee engagement is declining
Nevertheless, company D&I programs are on the decline, as is individual participation in D&I initiatives. Employees see that the time they spend on D&I is not rewarded, and is sometimes even discouraged by their manager or executive. Their initial excitement to participate in D&I dissipates as the return to their “real” jobs. And if nothing changes, employees — especially those from underrepresented backgrounds — will often leave the company, citing an unfair environment as they leave through a 6-month revolving door.
A call to executives
Daily, I see the critical disconnect between employee readiness and executive commitment to D&I. Whether the work is deemed too expensive (without examining savings or returns) or it drops on the list of priorities, company leaders are the ones who can prop it back up.
Not doing so impedes progress for companies and for our sector. Until executives are ready to meet (or surpass!) the commitment of their employee base, we will not see diversity and inclusion move forward. And until executives treat D&I as a major initiative, complete with resources, leadership, goals, expertise, accountability, deliverables and deadlines, it simply won’t get done.
Executives often don’t know what D&I success looks like because very few companies have achieved it. Fair enough. But for a sector that lives on the cutting edge, tech comes up woefully short on iterating to figure out what does work. “I don’t even know what D&I means” a tech leader recently confessed to me. I’ll be very clear: Diversity means increasing the representation of people from marginalized backgrounds at all levels and across all functional areas of the company. Inclusion means building policies, procedures, communication channels, and compensation policies where everyone is a full participant in the structure of your company. Not enough of one or the other, and the true benefit of a diverse workforce will never be reached.
What’s at stake
The upside of meaningful D&I investment is clear and has been known for some time — increased revenue, greater innovation, and higher rates of employee satisfaction and retention.
Technology is shaping today, but more importantly it is shaping the future. How we communicate, whether we survive Earth’s climate change, humans’ ability to leave this planet, how we consume information — all of this will be led by our sector. And without intentionally including the voices of those who have been on the margins of full participation, we are destined to repeat what we already know doesn’t work.
Diversity and inclusion is not a nice thing to do with a few extra dollars, it is an imperative to securing a better future. Our sector — specifically our executive leaders — can no longer sit on their heels hoping someone else will take care of it.
Thank you to Amanda Gelender and Alex Bledsoe for their work on this piece.