Diversity in tech needs turning leadership goals on their heads

Diversity in tech has become a pretty meaningless phrase since not much has changed in the last few years. How about we start listening to what the diverse side has to say and involve them in defining better measurements?

Photo by Kate Kalvach on Unsplash

I am the technical co-founder in an all-female founding team. In a recent experience, I kept receiving the same advice, to look for other women mentors. I found many inspiring ones, generously donating their time.

Then I asked for help to get a male mentor. It didn’t go well. I was told that my request was weird and uncomfortable.

This made me feel awkward and ashamed. My knee-jerk reaction was to explain, with hard data, that I wanted diversity. In my case, diversity meant a senior leader male mentor.

“The other, I think more obvious answer as well is that men tend to be the stakeholders — the power holders — in the organizations because they’re in the positions of leadership where they can make a difference. And so having women, again, there may be enough women to mentor other women there, but they may not be in the same positions of power to offer the same opportunities that these other men can do.” — Why Men Mentor Women, an interview by HBR

I made this request as the technical co-founder. I was told it should come from the CEO instead. Somehow, my ask for help was less worthy of consideration. It made me feel like a second-tier founder, simply because my role had more STEM in it. I suspect I’m not the only one to feel this…

If we want a more diverse and inclusive tech, we need to take a hard look at the current goals and metrics.

I scaled the engineering team from 0 to 500 in less than a year.” That’s a fantastic achievement but it’s not enough to measure the effectiveness of a leader.

It doesn’t tell how many of those engineers are still happily employed and how many have left disgruntled. Word travels fast in tech startups. Your engineer today can become your nightmare competitor tomorrow.

Happiness at work is not a soft metric. It’s directly translatable to revenue. Software is not written by machines, but by humans.

  • Happy people are well-motivated to consistently deliver a good product.
  • The customers of the product love and pay for it.
  • The company becomes profitable.

The often forgotten step is to invest back in keeping people happy. Rather than a win-lose game, it should be a win-win.

We have metrics for everything else, from software quality to developer productivity. We lack good metrics for inclusiveness, happiness and diversity at work.

Here are a few of my suggestions:

  • How much more intrinsic motivation does your employee get after being understood in a vulnerable circumstance? They could be system wizards in a good day, but not when they were up all night caring for their sick baby or elderly parent. Intrinsic motivation leads to the highest quality of work.
  • How much praise and advocacy do your employees create in the industry? Peer recommendations is still the best recruitment strategy.
  • How much more consumer happiness your diverse employees generate by building better features? Happy customers create positive network effects and recurring revenue.

Tech giants invest hundreds of thousands of pounds in leadership and executive training for their managers (and still fail sometimes).

Smaller tech startups can’t match that offering. The minimum they could do is make their workplace more inclusive, diverse and happy. Not with crazy parties, ping-pong tables and beer but with good leaders who know what’s important to measure.

[Update] An insightful interview with Donna Johnson, former chief diversity officer at Mastercard. A quote I found pertinent.

Technical founder excited to develop products that improve peoples’ lives. My best trait is curiosity. I can sky-dive and be afraid of heights at the same time.

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