Dear Tech Companies: Making pledges isn’t hard. The real work is in keeping them.
Each story in our Dear Tech Companies series focuses on issues in the tech space and provides strategies and solutions to companies looking to invest in meaningful solutions that will drive impactful industry change and make the industry more accessible to Black, Latina, and Native women.
A year ago, Corporate America got a wake-up call. As the world responded to George Floyd’s murder with rage, empathy, and solidarity, tech corporations vowed to address systemic racism, pledging commitments to racial equity initiatives and diversifying their talent pools. One year out, think-pieces, tech advocates, and Twitter are asking whether the wake-up call led to real, meaningful, measurable progress and change.
We’ve heard conversation after conversation noting minimal movement on 2020 promises, that corporate commitments fall short in addressing substantive change, and that workplaces continue to face challenges of equity, inclusion, and belonging. That’s probably true. A lot of organizations don’t yet have adequate metrics or data to report how their efforts have materialized. Also, and perhaps more importantly, these issues have deep roots. Of $500 million dedicated by corporations to philanthropic giving in 2017, only 0.1% was granted to girls and women of color in tech. It’s clear that bridging these gaps will take more than a pledge, and more than a year.
Are we really surprised that an industry with deep-seated challenges can’t solve issues of diversity, inclusion, and racial equity overnight?
Of course not. But what’s at stake here is bigger than a statement. There’s urgency to move the needle, but not seeing quick returns doesn’t mean we stop threading the needle — finding creative and innovative ways to build and navigate complex structural change. Here are four ways tech companies can walk the talk, and commit to the often difficult, on-going, and evolving work of transforming our industry:
- Treat DEI like a business, not an incidental. Investing in a product doesn’t always yield returns in the first year of investment, but intentional and strategic investments in the growth, sustainability, and long-term impact of a product make viability more likely. This applies to DEI work too. Dell’s Progress Made Real Plan for 2030 is a great example of a vision for short-term actionable impact alongside longer-term moonshot goals, aided by clearly defined and measurable metrics. Your diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging initiatives are a multi-year investment — they should enrich, inform, and draw from your work.
- Impact begins with accountability. Accountability means that there are structures, mechanisms, and processes in place that ensure initiatives don’t disappear into the corporate void. One way to work towards this is by ensuring your DEI initiatives are targeted, strategic, committed, and tailored to your company’s unique needs and goals, so that lip service is minimized and action is maximized. For instance, Comcast has structured Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and philanthropic strategy under the same executive, which means that these two departments will collaborate while integrating insights, economic opportunities, and equity initiatives in actionable ways. Racial justice and equity do not work in silos. Our corporate initiatives and commitments shouldn’t either.
- Convert conversations to action. Raising awareness is an important way to reach new audiences. Events such as F5’s Real Talk create spaces for engaging authentically and offering real guidance to build more inviting and equitable tech workplaces. We have to remember that progress relies on converting conversations to collaboration, commitment, and continued action. We need to acknowledge that there’s a problem and use honest deliberations to spur inclusive leadership, create safe and welcoming spaces for employees, and encourage incentives to meet existing diversity goals and set new ones.
- Move in sync to move forward. No single company created gender and racial inequity in the tech industry, and no single company can fix it alone. Progressive, bold, and equity-minded policies can change individual company cultures, but transformational change happens when others notice and join the collective movement. The Alliance for Global Inclusion is an example of concrete and meaningful collaboration — a coalition of five companies committed to providing tangible, innovative solutions to the industry’s historical shortcomings in the Diversity and Inclusion space. Our own Coalition works to share knowledge and best practices on philanthropic grantmaking, talent acquisition and employee engagement programs, and DEI initiatives. There’s always room for more collaboration and innovation. When one company acts alone, it’s an example. When many companies act together, it’s a movement.
There are no quick-fixes, no checklists, and no certificates of completion in diversity and equity work — only shifting horizons. The ultimate goal of transforming tech to be more representative and welcoming is a feedback loop that positively impacts every company and, ultimately, society and culture at large. A year ago, we were asked to reckon with the urgency and immediacy of correcting years of systemic injustice. Our work has only just begun, and not meeting the benchmark yet is only an opportunity to move forward and keep pushing for transformation. Perhaps the right question isn’t asking if we are there yet, but asking companies, allies, and ourselves how we get there, and how we show our progress along the way — together.