We need more radical solutions for diversity and inclusion

It’s clear change won’t happen fast — unless we experiment and aren’t afraid to fail.

Ellen K. Pao
May 31, 2018 · 5 min read
Photo by Nikoretro under CC 2.0

It’s been two years since we founded Project Include. In our first year, we saw people clearly starting to understand that tech is neither inclusive nor diverse. But we also saw they were mostly uncertain, unmotivated or afraid to improve.

Photo by clement127 under CC 2.0

At the end of our second year, we see people more eager to take on transformational change. But we also see that it’s extremely difficult to create a diverse and inclusive culture quickly — regardless of company size or CEO commitment — if you depend only on the current set of popular diversity and inclusion activities.

Setting an inclusive culture through ongoing training, creating transparency in wage bands, removing bias from job descriptions and the recruiting process, hiring a D&I lead… these are all necessary actions, but results are slow. Implementing all these strategies won’t get your employee base to reflect America’s broader demographics overnight. In fact, at today’s pace, and without more revolutionary ideas, we may not see changes in our lifetime — or even our children’s lifetimes.

Juxtaposed with this disheartening insight, however, is the silver lining:

In the beginning, leaders were hesitant — often scared — to act, even if they were fully supportive of the need for D&I. Last month I met with two startups that have fully embraced inclusion from the top and are seeking out new, revolutionary solutions.

And that’s important. One topic we’ve discussed in detail is how to craft more radical ways to accelerate inclusion in tech culture so we don’t have to wait generations for a level playing field.

Here are some ideas that we are starting to research and talk about:

  • Reflecting workforce demographics on all your teams. Set timelines for reaching parity. Incorporate diverse experiences at all levels, especially at the top, and in all groups. Target candidates from underrepresented groups with diversity referral bonuses and dedicated diversity recruiters. Measure attrition of underrepresented groups as part of manager and HR performance. Adopt the Rooney Rule and require at least two or three (not just one) candidates from underrepresented groups in the final candidate pool for every manager or executive hire — and especially for board roles.
  • Putting out an inclusion rider. Make diversity hiring a hard commitment. We should follow Hollywood’s lead for once and build diversity into our ecosystem in contract terms.
  • Setting measurable D&I goals. Reward employees for meeting them, and penalize those who completely fail at them. Survey your team to analyze diversity demographics by subgroup, and intersectional subgroups if you are large enough. Measure inclusion by analyzing satisfaction levels across subgroups.
  • Using an Inclusion Index. Convert survey results into a measure that looks at demographics across levels, functions, compensation, and satisfaction levels across several areas. Track progress at least every six months and hold people accountable for meaningful change.
  • Fixing compensation and wealth generation. That means true pay parity, with diversity in stock distribution tables (for employees and investors). Acknowledge and address the fact that certain candidates may have higher cash obligations, which may lead to attrition in the funnel; counter by emphasizing growth, careers, diversity and inclusion, and value of equity.
  • Treating employees equitably. Convert the current system at most companies of two classes of employees into a single group with more equitable treatment. That means a minimum living wage, benefit equality for hourly workers, stock options for all employees, and potentially a student loan repayment program benefit.
  • Reforming HR policies. Pay more attention to long-term solutions than short-term legal risk. That means NDA removal for discrimination, bias and harassment, and no forced arbitration. That means measuring attrition of underrepresented groups. And following up on reports of discrimination or harassment over time.
  • Empowering HR early. Rethink risk tolerance. Quantify the hiring “risk” around underrepresented minorities. Understand assumptions we make around conflict resolution and hiring. Give HR people a vetted list of people operations technology companies that can turn HR into a real business partner of the C-suite by reducing bias, collecting and analyzing better data, and troubleshooting and streamlining the talent process.

But taking on these challenges isn’t easy. While CEOs are eager to try initiatives like these, many of them are concerned about failing. They’re worried about being crucified in public on social media or by the press, and worse, by the far right. They tell us they feel overwhelmed by the need to make immediate progress on culture and inclusivity, and stifled by not having room for mistakes. It feels a thousand times more risky and stressful, they say, than releasing a beta product with bugs.

Here, on our two-year anniversary, we simply say: We need to give these CEOs solutions to test, and permission to try and fail. We must allow them to try, to iterate, to learn. We shouldn’t punish anyone who attempts bold solutions and ambitious goals and falls short; we should be calling out the CEOs who do nothing instead. And we are seeing Startup Include CEOs undertake bold experiments like Managed by Q’s worker equity and Patreon’s timeline for demographic parity.

We see Project Include’s third year as a year of opportunity. We’re encouraged by efforts by other groups and are working with them on these initiatives. We are standardizing around data and research. And we are doubling down on our core values of inclusion of all groups, across all activities, using metrics for accountability.

The question we ask our supporters is, what else can you do to help industry leaders try radical ideas that bring inclusivity sooner? Will we applaud these CEOs and groups publicly?

Project Include

Give everyone a fair chance to succeed in tech.