Last week, I read the TechCrunch article “Giving Up on ‘Diversity and Inclusion,’” and it made me feel more passionate about the work we’re doing at Zillow Group than ever.
In the article, the author Jon Evans shares dismal stats pointing to an all too familiar trend: Diversity efforts across big Silicon Valley tech companies have stalled. I agree that there’s work to be done here, but when we encounter a challenge we shouldn’t just throw in the towel. Instead, we should try new, creative approaches, and learn from our mistakes. Today, we should be more emboldened than ever to try new things to move the needle on diversity and inclusion (D&I).
Evans argues that D&I efforts aren’t working, citing Google’s diversity numbers, which haven’t budged over a three-year period. But this approach to evaluating the effectiveness of D&I efforts is flawed for two reasons:
First, diversity reports — while critical — don’t tell the whole story. We need to be looking at both representation and employee experience. We can’t reap the benefits of a diverse team if we aren’t creating space for their voices at the table. And we can’t retain and develop our employees if we don’t provide them with equitable opportunities for growth. Not all companies are consistently measuring employee experience yet; and of the ones that are, few are sharing that information externally.
Second, authentic D&I is a long game. Successful initiatives focus not only on improving representation, but on changing a company’s DNA to be more equitable and inclusive. A company’s cultural beliefs and habits are so deeply engrained that evolution takes time.
And, when a company culture starts to become more equitable and inclusive, it may not immediately be reflected in a company’s diversity report. Uber’s culture, for example, is undergoing a serious shift under its new leadership, but its diversity numbers may not reflect that yet.
This reminds me of what Zillow Group CEO Spencer Rascoff calls “ticker temptation.” It’s easy to look at a company’s daily fluctuations in stock price as an indication of its value. Often, however, that kind of orientation leads business leaders to make knee-jerk decisions that may pay off in the short term, but hurt the value of the company over time.
The same is true with D&I efforts. Initiatives that focus solely on improving year-over-year metrics will only be effective in the short term. Instead, we need to focus on sustainable solutions that fundamentally reshape company cultures to be more inclusive.
So how do we create long-term, sustainable D&I programs?
I don’t have all the answers (no one does), but one thing I’ve learned is that any meaningful shift starts with employees. At Zillow Group, we do “plays,” where the whole company learns about an area, focuses on big goals and figures out how to help achieve those goals through their area of the business. In the 2000s, for example, the entire company focused on search engine optimization. We didn’t see results overnight, but it ended up changing our company trajectory. Today, we’re focused on improving equity and belonging across the company — from HR to engineering to sales. We have a saying that at Zillow Group, everyone is on the Equity & Belonging team. It’s not an effort that can be executed on by a single person, team or program. But when everyone buys in, change happens.
Along those lines, D&I efforts can’t be mandated from the top (although they should be believed in by the top). Employees need to have an understanding that equity is good for everyone and find avenues that are meaningful for them. Our Affinity Networks, for example, are employee-led groups that help employees connect with each other. These groups also welcome allies to participate, reinforcing the notion that everyone benefits from an equitable work environment. About a third of our employee base participates in these Networks.
These efforts will take time to pay off, but ongoing measurement is still important. In addition to continuing to measure diversity across the workforce, we measure employees’ experiences once they’re at the table, and look at their growth opportunities and career longevity. When we take time to learn and work deeply to understand what our employees experience at work, we gain insight into the impact of our D&I efforts.
Evans notes “It’s good to be an outsider, if you’re trying to do something new. It makes you think originally.” I completely agree. We’re all outsiders on D&I to some degree; the work is important, but it’s new and it’s evolving, and we’re learning as we go.
We all have a stake in improving equity across our companies and in the tech community more broadly; we know it’s good for business, and it’s the right thing to do. Let’s commit to creating sustainable D&I programs that focus on improving company culture, employee involvement, and trying new, creative approaches. When we’re not seeing meaningful change, we shouldn’t give up. We should try harder.