Organizational Psychology: Embracing Diversity

I always thought I lived in a diverse place. Born and raised in California, I constantly interact with people from diverse backgrounds. I meet people who look different than me and who speak a different language than me.

When I enrolled at San Jose State University, I was amazed by the diversity of my classmates. They came from all over the country and chose to study a diverse range of majors.

It wasn’t until I stepped into the tech world as an intern, started doing my own research on diversity, and joined the Stanford d.school’s Organizational Psychology class, that I began to think, “Maybe this place isn’t as diverse as I thought.” It turns out that ‘diversity’ is an incredibly nuanced concept. It’s not just about race, but also about gender, age, ways of thinking, and a range of other factors that make me see my home a lot differently than I did before.

For example, look at these numbers from the tech industry I now work in:

Less than half of the workforce at SAP, where I currently work, are women — 32.1% to be specific. But when you compare it to other tech companies, this number isn’t all that bad.

· Facebook: 17% Female, 83% Male

· Twitter: 13% Female, 87% Male

· Google: 19% Female, 81% male

(Source: Diversity of Tech Companies by the Numbers: 2016 Edition)

In high-tech industries, 68.53% of the workforce is white. Meanwhile, only 7.4% of employees are African-American and only 7.97% are Hispanic. Gender and ethnic diversity is still a problem in the corporate workplace. But what about diversity of thought (which has been proven to have positive impacts in businesses) religious diversity, and diversity of sexual orientation? In order to be completely diverse, businesses need to be inclusive to all aspects of diversity.

So, how can we fix this?

One class at Stanford’s d.school is trying to break this diversity barrier. Facilitated by SAP’s Chief Design Officer Sam Yen, as well as Alex Scully and Laura Pickel of SAP’s Design X team, Organizational Psychology of Design Thinking: Embracing Diverse Perspectives in the Workplace analyzes the role that diversity plays, or doesn’t play, in various companies. In the 10-week course, students visited organizations such as Google, SAP, and the Department of Labor to interview employees about diversity in their workplace.

I had the opportunity to join the class on their visit to SAP, taking on the role as a student. I originally had the idea that all employees would have similar thoughts on diversity. However, each employee shared a different perception of diversity and how they were affected by it. One person thought racial diversity was important and felt like SAP lacked it. Another person mentioned that language diversity was a huge barrier and he would be more comfortable if he was on a team with people who spoke his native language. Before this activity, I never recognized how broad the term “diversity” was, nor did I realize the extent to which people are affected by it.

Besides giving students the chance to talk one-on-one with tech employees, the class helps students become aware of the impact diverse collaboration can have in the corporate workplace, and use these findings to reimagine how organizations would be different if they embraced a more diverse work culture. It was the only class I’ve had that showed me the value of diversity in a real-world work environment.

However, diverse collaboration does not automatically work by hiring employees of diverse backgrounds — it can only work if everyone embraces it. If someone doesn’t feel welcomed and respected, they are more likely to conform rather than provide their unique perspective. Being part of a team in which all members are the same may feel easier, but it leads to bad performance. Diversity is important in tech; new products are created every day, but they can’t become successful unless the people building these products can relate to the diverse people using them.