By Lauren SauserSeptember 20, 2016

Diversity at Work: Why It Should Be an All-hands Mission

When organizations survey a limited spectrum of employees for each job created—Ivy League grads with their MBA, for example—they put themselves at risk for the kind of strategic monoculture that endangers innovation.

Some tech companies have affirmed the importance of diversifying their workforce, and a group of 32 organizations—including Airbnb, Spotify, Intel, Pinterest, and Lyft—have signed a pledge to implement and publish company-specific goals to recruit, retain, and advance diverse technology talent.

This is exciting, as research from McKinsey, Catalyst, and Deloitte Australia has shown that gender and racially diverse organizations outperform their competition, particularly in assessments that require inclusive problem solving.

But in spite of the data, diversity remains a hulking challenge for major tech companies including Apple, Facebook, and Google (Google’s staff is only 3 percent hispanic, 32 percent Asian, and 2 percent black).

By comparison, the initiatives at leading US tech schools are remarkably inclusive when compared to the boardrooms of top US tech companies.

During a recent roundtable, Vice President Joe Biden discussed the TechHire initiative, launched in 2015 to give Americans greater access to accelerated tech education. According to the Whitehouse, 4,000 workers have already been trained and hired, and business communities across the country have committed to placing an additional 35,000 Americans in high-paying jobs over the next few years.

“[We’re using] a different model—it’s not the standard recruiting model [where you’re] looking a credentials on a resume and choosing based on that,” Sarah Mayer, Director for IT Product Systems at Boeing, said during the roundtable. “This is different. Your standard HR policies will not work.”

Mayer explained that most experientially diverse candidates––regardless of energy, creativity, or other intangibles—are screened out of the hiring process before they can get in the door for an interview.

“The first step is acknowledging that you’re probably not as diverse as you think…It’s easier to create initiatives and have the intention to hire diverse teams than it is to prioritize diversity when you have a hiring deadline,” Savanna Thompson, Director of Recruiting & Human Resources at Code Fellows said. “Some of the most successful hires I’ve seen in my career have been from unexpected backgrounds. Working with people exactly like yourself is, of course, easier—but you won’t learn as much, be as challenged, or come up with as great of ideas.”

Thompson notes that while prioritizing diversity should start with the executive team, it’s also the responsibility of every employee to encourage and foster a diverse environment, and recognize the value that different opinions bring.

Once the value of diversity is prioritized in the boardroom, offices can begin focusing on the standards and data associated with their recruiting strategy, and build a subsequent culture of open mindedness and growth. It shouldn’t be surprising to business leaders that a diverse office (building upon a myriad of racial, cultural, academic, and socioeconomic experiences) will find ways to innovate with the talent and resources available.

“The market is constantly changing, and to attract new and upcoming talent effectively, companies will need show their inclusiveness to recruit,” said Brandy Rhodes, Campus Director in Seattle. “Many organizations already understand that the secret sauce for innovation is exclusively created by diversity. Our contrasts [in perspective] are the lifeblood of breakthroughs and revolution.”

Both stats and experts suggest that diversified teams—who mirror the globalized, complex markets in which tech companies work—can successfully defy the status quo of any one culture or problem solving methodology.

To learn more about our mission to improve diversity in the tech industry, check out our Diversity Scholarship Fund.