By Justin Reyes
Everyone agrees that diversity is important, and companies boast that they are actively working to hire people from diverse backgrounds in addition to promoting diversity programs. However, when CNN Money recently requested companies to provide statistics regarding their employee composition, only three were willing to release information. The lack of participation and the dismal results reported highlight that not only is diversity still an issue, but that there are many who are willing to pay lip-service to the cause, rather than actually follow through with what they are promoting.
The excuse provided by many companies is that the pool of eligible technical talent is small, and a diverse set of candidates is even smaller. In the race to out compete and stay efficient, it’s easier for most companies to poach capable candidates from competitors. Investing in best practices for the long term success of the organization, and helping educate groups that would otherwise not have known about such opportunities seems like a lot of effort to most. Clearly money and resources exist to purchase and refine talent, or is it just that diversity seems uncool?
So while companies are willing to pool money into poaching talent and shutting down products, they still seem to be oblivious to the fact that there is high company turnover in tech, and fewer people are majoring in engineering and computer science. If the trend continues then the talent wars we see today will only get worse. Reaching out to minority groups, educating, and encouraging them to pursue careers in technology seems like not only a valuable approach, but also one where the minority groups would indeed benefit. In fact there are already a number of minority groups like SHPE (society of hispanic professionals), that would be open to discussing ways of working together.
Fortunately, there are a few companies out there that care, such as Etsy. Etsy, the handmade arts and crafts e-commerce website grew their number of women engineers by 500% in one year through a concerted and ongoing effort of campaigns and an educational program. The program is aimed at introducing people who would not normally have considered careers in technology. By actively educating them, Etsy is able to train and recruit a talented pool of capable individuals.
Perhaps most companies aren’t as enlightened as Etsy, because to most talent is interchangeable. However, the true value in having a diverse team is because the world is changing, people are dividing themselves into different subcultures, and want to associate themselves with brands that reflect their identity and needs. This is exemplified by the growing number of niche markets, and people’s desire for these products are also increasing. Moreover, people’s purchasing decisions are no longer limited to price, but also include social good and environmental concerns. But, it’s hard to create products and service customers without a deep understanding of all their changing needs and concerns. This problem becomes even more acute when companies are rather homogenous. Having a diverse employee composition breeds better solutions, because there is a wider set of experiences that results in diverse thoughts and solutions.
The current numbers in tech aren’t great, and masking them certainly doesn’t solve the problem. If we want to continue to build products that connect with customers, then companies need to be active about reaching out, training, and recruiting minority groups. After all, innovation isn’t about buying products to shut them down, and diversity isn’t a marketing campaign.
Justin Reyes is an regular contributor on Femgineer.com.