How to Tackle Diversity in the Tech World

The relative lack of diversity in the technology world has been news for some time. At Google, for example, more than 70% of employees are male, and the overwhelming majority of C-suite level executives are men. Fifty-seven percent are white. While Asian employees make up one-third of Google, all other ethnic groups cluster at 5% or less. Other tech firms have very similar diversity figures.

Tech firms are highly concerned about diversity. There is an increasing amount of technology news evidence that robust diversity equals better financial performance.

The recent Thomas Reuters Diversity and Inclusion Index, for example, indicated that the more diverse a company’s workforce, the more it financially outperformed its peers. While companies such as Proctor & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, Microsoft, and Cisco Systems make the top 25 in the index, companies such as Google did not.

Partly spurred by these and other measures, Google has focused more intently on building its diversity and inclusion methods in recent months. A recent Fortune article focused on its efforts.

Fostering Inclusion by Crowdsourcing

A large part of Google’s diversity efforts is driven by a concern it shares with other tech firms: the potential billions of customers outside the North American matrix. (Wired, for example, points out that 87% of Facebook users are not in North America.) Without diversity, tech titans like Google run the risk of leaving a huge core of potential users untapped.

Google’s approach is almost like a form of crowdsourcing. Multiple employee groups are working to come up with robust approaches to make diversity the “new normal.”

There is a 9,000-person group called Women at Google, for example. There are groups for black, Latin, and Asian employees. There are groups for the disabled. There is at least one group that exists for older employees, called Greyglers.

Part of the company’s focus is on using inclusion to create stronger business models. One of the employees highlighted, for example, is Adriana Jara, an employee who hails from Costa Rica. Her nationality made her something of a cultural outlier at first.

Eventually, however, she was transferred to the shopping team, where her insights contribute to shopping outside the U.S. She points out, for example, that shipping speed is highly important to people in the U.S. In countries like Costa Rica, though, where shipping speeds are generally very slow, price points can be much more important.

The Reach of Diversity

Google’s efforts are focused on making its businesses appeal to more potential customers. Another focus, though, is simply on leadership skills: realizing the potential value in employees that may not hail from top tech schools or have computer science degrees. This is not included in diversity conversations perhaps as often as it should be.

One of the company’s most famous rejects, for example, was Kevin Systrom, who was turned down by Google’s product manager program. The reason? A degree in management science rather than computers.

He went on to found Instagram.

Another well-known incident: Laura Mather, an early cyber security expert. She was hired at Google but then found out about a memo from Google’s head in which he expressed doubt about her future success. The reason? Her doctorate was from the University of Colorado, rather than, say, Stanford.

Mather also went on to found successful start-ups.

Leading tech companies are focusing more on diversity and inclusion, which can contribute to their bottom line and allow them to attract top employees.