Innovative. Data-driven. Product-focused. Remote.
These qualities often define successful technology companies. They’re also strengths companies should lean into as they work to build diverse, equitable and inclusive workplaces and products.
Whether private or public, the business case for why companies want to build DE&I into their DNA is clear: Diverse leadership teams outperform their more homogenous peers on profitability by 36% (McKinsey) and 75% of organizations with a diverse and inclusive leadership culture will exceed their financial goals (Gartner). The fact that DE&I is a business priority has added that pillar to the responsibilities of leaders everywhere, and increased the number of executives that lead DE&I strategies for companies.
The benefits are clear but so is the reality that tech companies at all asset classes have major improvements to make. To help reach those goals, True’s Diversity practice leads and DE&I experts in their network came together to explore four characteristics tech companies should embrace to unlock the business advantages of DE&I.
Innovative places can make the changes necessary to improve DE&I
The core strength of innovation can power the work it takes to improve a company’s DE&I. Innovative workplace cultures are open to change and receptive to making the pivots necessary to bolster business outcomes.
“DE&I requires both systems work and changing the hearts and minds of folks to reach a better place,” said Keri Gavin, co-lead of the Diversity practice. “It’s complex but it’s not hard. You have to be intentional and willing to wade in the discomfort. But taking action is what separates good companies and leaders from great companies and leaders.”
Research also shows that diverse teams are more innovative. Companies with diverse management teams have 19% higher revenue from newly-introduced innovations (BCG). Tech firms need to look at their DE&I data and ensure they’re not putting a cap on who gets to be innovative because of unconscious bias.
“Along with being the right thing to do, there’s a business case for diversity because it bolsters creativity, innovation, and diverse ways of thinking, which leads to profitability,” Gavin said.
Prioritizing diverse and inclusive candidate slates during the recruitment and hiring process also helps cultivate the innovation companies need. But “simply having a diverse employee base will not achieve those benefits of innovation and profitability if the culture is not inclusive,” Gavin said.
True’s Diversity practice helps companies create diverse teams with strategy and intention, and find the talent they didn't know they needed that will help foster innovation. The practice also recruits DE&I leaders who will work to ensure that underrepresented talent feels valued, accepted and has the ability to thrive and achieve equitable success. With diversity and inclusion together, progress is made.
Drill down into your data-driven core to grow your DE&I
For companies that run on data knowledge, it should feel natural to embrace the measurements and statistics necessary to improve DE&I.
Many places collect diversity statistics–like how many people are from underrepresented groups–but finding ways to measure the inclusiveness and equity of an organization “is a critical area of untapped potential,” explained Dionna Smith, chief diversity officer of edtech company GoGuardian.
“Many companies aren’t consistently measuring things like how long it takes a Black woman to be promoted in an organization whose ratings are the same as her White male counterparts in the organization,” Smith said.
Digging into those equity questions through data may reveal biases or roadblocks that can then be addressed. Data can uncover inequities that are costing effectiveness and efficiency, or preventing the right person from being promoted into the right position, which would ultimately impact innovation and profitability.
“It is important for DE&I leaders to have a data-driven mindset and metrics to be able to assess impact,” Smith said. “In order for people to recognize DE&I as a true business initiative that's driving success, we've got to speak the language of the folks that we need to support our programs."
Investors and consumers may also value that data as part of the ESG promises of the business.
CEO Lucinda Duncalfe started tech platform AboveBoard, a sister-company to True, to find ways to bring more underrepresented talent to executive and board leadership positions. From the start she’s relied on data to measure progress:
“You look at the diversity of your existing team. You look at the diversity that you're seeing at each stage of your hiring process. You look at promotions and attrition and compensation and employee feedback and say, ‘Okay, let's be real about this. Does the data say that we're being as inclusive and equitable as we want to be?’”
A product-focused company should embrace product inclusion
Tech companies, whether they’re B2B or B2C, celebrate their product-focus because the uptake of their product is key to business success. It follows that more companies are thinking strategically about product inclusion as a core component of their business strategy.
Product inclusion is where a product is viewed through a DE&I lens to ensure diverse perspectives have been incorporated into the design and development process. That, in turn, helps companies remain competitive and make sure they are meeting customer needs.
"There has to be real intention from product teams and business leaders to ensure the perspective of underrepresented populations are reflected in their work,” said Aaron Clubb, co-head of the True Diversity practice. “The Diversity practice has built a network of DE&I leaders with growing expertise in product inclusion to answer the emerging demand from companies.”
GoGuardian’s Smith is one of those leaders. A focus of Smith’s role at GoGuardian is product inclusion.
“Part of our diversity focus internally should be in service of creating better, more inclusive products,” Smith said. “Whether that’s eliminating some feature that has a disparate impact on one group, mitigating bias on our platform, or addressing unique challenges that folks from marginalized groups may have that came from building products without having them in mind.”
GoGuardian’s software serves one in every two public school K-12 students in the U.S., a population where 54% come from racial and ethnic minority groups. Statistics like those, Smith said, make it clear that where product inclusion was once a nice-to-have that it’s now a must-have.
Remote workplaces can encourage diversity
Today’s technology companies also have an advantage to improve their DE&I because they are more likely to offer remote or flexible workplaces.
Valerie Williams founded the DE&I consulting business, Converge Firm. She said the ability to hire from anywhere makes “the D in DE&I a bit easier if you have an intentional way to access and engage talent.”
Williams gives the example of a client of her firm that is located in a low-population Western state. They had an employee population that was 80% White, which reflected the demographics near their office. Now that they are remote, they can hire from anywhere, and are actively attempting to diversify their workplace.
Remote work is also removing economic barriers that may have been in place. It can be hard to impossible for some individuals from historically underrepresented groups to afford to live near the tech companies in San Francisco or Seattle, for example.
Williams also points out that feelings of inclusion can improve in remote environments because microaggressions and other incidents are less likely.
“When you’re not face-to-face you have fewer moments where people can experience workplace infractions or more harmful incidents. On the flip side, you have fewer moments for connectivity and engagement, so you can take a hit on belonging without intentional engagement,” Williams said.
AboveBoard’s Duncalfe points to the research, which finds that people from historically marginalized communities report being less comfortable in the office setting because they may feel pressure to mask their true selves and can be subject to micro-aggressions.
“It turns out that remote work addresses some important structural inequities that exist in an in-person environment,” Duncalfe said. “The shift to remote work has eased the burden on underrepresented minorities, which helps create a more equitable environment. As leaders, we need to recognize the impact this has on our teams and consider it in our decision making.”