“Always Be Diversifying”

The secret of tech companies with diverse workforces

Rachel Williams, Head of Corporate Recruiting, Diversity & Inclusion at Yelp

Diversity: not tech’s strong suit.

Google: 69% of employees are male.

Facebook: 67% of employees are male.

Apple: only 9% of employees are African-American.

Other tech giants: same same. Women, Latinos, people of color—all underrepresented.

And over the last few years, diversity numbers are showing only the slightest of improvements—despite studies showing that diverse organizations are more likely to capture market share, and despite tech co’s spending millions on diversity programs and hiring inclusion officers to drive progress.

Tony Prophet, Chief Equality Officer at Salesforce

Nowhere has this been more celebrated than at Salesforce, where CEO Marc Benioff made news recently with the high-profile hire of Tony Prophet as the company’s first “chief equality officer.”

These are all steps in the right direction, according to people who work in the tech and diversity space.

But, they say, tech companies need to move faster. Here’s how.

Look inward first

In 2014 Yelp hired Rachel Williams as the head of diversity and inclusion. Yelp was already more diverse than many other tech companies, but since hiring Williams, it’s made big gains, including an 86 percent jump in the number of African Americans hired between 2014 and 2015, and a 124 percent growth rate in the number of women working in its tech departments.

The key, Williams said, is to think of diversity less as a step-by-step process, and more as a company-wide culture shift.

“We’re a reviews company, but we’d go to recruit [students of color] on college campuses, and we wouldn’t get great reviews,” she said. “We realized inclusion was much more important. When a company gets the inclusion piece right, the attraction will come naturally.”

But it’s a big challenge at Yelp and elsewhere to change entrenched (read: white-led) cultures.

“If you have fair skin and are of the male gender, you could easily go around and think that your experience is everyone’s experience,” Williams said. “Or that others’ experience isn’t actually hard.”

That’s why the first place companies should look, according to Williams and others, in not outward, but at themselves.

Start at the top

LaToya Allen, a software engineer at Big Cartel and the founder of Shenomads, said she’s so wary of companies preaching diversity and not actually providing a diverse environment that she’ll ask recruiters who contact her to provide salary information and stats on diversity, and she’ll investigate the company’s website. She wrote a piece about her experience that was picked up by Wired.

“People will be like, ‘Hey what are we doing wrong, why are People of Color not even bothering to return our emails,’” Allen said. “It’s your careers page. It’s your image. They’ll hire a diversity person who has no experience, which shows me they’re placing no value on diversity and inclusion.”

That’s why you need to start at the top, says Danilo Campos, the technical director of social impact at GitHub.

By making sure that the managerial level of a company is diverse and plugged into diverse networks, you’ll ensure diversity throughout your ranks.

Hold yourself accountable

That’s exactly what happened at Clef, a small, two-factor authentication company in Oakland. When founder Brennen Byrne started Clef in 2013, he wanted to make sure diversity was a top priority. To that end, he created an employee handbook focused on diversity and made it public.

“That not only communicates that we take this stuff seriously,” Byrne said. “It also makes us accountable — we’ve committed publicly to upholding a certain standard.”

Clef is still small, but it’s uniquely diverse in gender and race. That, Byrne said, is likely to remain true as it grows, because diversity is built into the company’s DNA.

There’s a lesson there for tech startups and giants alike.

For a long time, our most successful companies haven’t been bashful about promoting their philosophies:

“Move fast and break things,” says Facebook.

“Value simplicity and avoid complexity,” says Apple.

“Always be shipping,” says everybody.

When it comes to hiring, it might be time to riff on that last one: “Always be diversifying.”

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